Loaded with wry humour and surprising rug-pulls, Penny Lane’s supremely strange biography of 1920s impotence-cure mogul J.R. Brinkley is the documentary oddity every festival watch-list needs at least one of.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
For anyone who has found themselves morbidly fascinated by the discomfiting rise of Donald Trump in the last year, this continually surprising portrait of 1920s American entrepreneur J.R. Brinkley should work like catnip. An ambitious doctor who discovered a miracle cure for impotence by transplanting goat testicles into human scrotums, Brinkley suddenly went from local medicine-man to millionaire mogul. Contrasting the avid support of the hundreds for whom it allegedly worked, and the contemptuous scepticism of the American Medical Association, the story sets itself up as a classic David and Goliath feud between alternative medicine and the government. It grows weirder, more complicated and more involving as it moves along.
Brinkley’s biography also includes a salacious radio show, a dogged run for Governor and a hilariously re-enacted lawsuit that finally pits him against his arch-nemesis. Fashioning a canny hybrid of spirited cartoons, talking heads and Brinkley Family home movies, director Penny Lane crafts a historical adaptation that’s both an incredibly funny story and an incredibly insightful rumination on storytelling itself. It’s a wry, compelling tall tale that more than lives up to each of the multiple meanings its title inspires. — JF
“As illuminating as it is immensely entertaining, Penny Lane’s doc uses charming hand-crafted animation to trace how Brinkley ballooned a wacko epiphany into a vast media empire… It’s a chronicle of the American dream in action, and the fact that it’s all true didn't stop Lane’s film from ending with the best twist of this year’s Sundance.” — David Ehrlich, Rolling Stone