The Rent is Too… Oh Whatever: Milking Someone Else’s 15 Minutes in Damn!


Interrogating the cruel impermanence of Internet celebrity in real time should be documentary gold, especially with as willing a subject as 2010 New York gubernatorial hopeful Jimmy McMillan (he of the auto-repeat tagline “The rent is too damn high!”). Then why does first-timer Aaron Fisher-Cohen’s Damn!, which chronicles McMillan’s attempts to extend his YouTube-propelled fame after a memorable debate last October, feel like the latest leap onto a sadistic dog pile? Granted, McMillan asks for it—his superficially rousing message of support for the state’s economically strapped is an empty sound bite at best. Fisher-Cohen, to whom the vain McMillan grants full access, does a good job of showing how little this lack of substance matters to the various handlers and comic imitators eager to board the bandwagon, and reveals how perversely willing our culture is to reduce issues of class to a cheap punchline. But the director ultimately treads too fine a line between exposé and cash-in, in part because he belabors his thesis. Sure, McMillan is at least half charlatan, but 20 minutes into Damn! it’s clear that he’s also a sad, possibly disturbed man who needs a compassionate caseworker more than the attention of a fickle public or ambitious documentarian.