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“Knock Down The House” Is An Inspirational Documentary

It’s almost impossible not to know who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is if you pay even a little attention to politics. She’s a force of nature and a rock star. One day, a film may be made about her, biopic style. For the moment, we just have a stunning new documentary in Knock Down the House, which played to raves earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Rightly so, too, as this is non fiction cinema at its finest. You don’t have to be a hardcore political aficionado or a left wing liberal to appreciate this. It’s far more about diversity, representation, and the middle class rising up than any political ideology.

The doc is a look at a quartet of insurgent candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. They are a young bartender in the Bronx named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia by the name of Paula Jean Swearengin, a mother grieving the loss of her daughter in Nevada named Amy Vilela, and a registered nurse in Missouri named Cori Bush. Against tremendous odds, they’ve opted to take on the political machine. Swearengin is challenging sitting Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, while the other three are seeking House seats, with Ocasio-Cortez going up against one of the most powerful Congressman in America, Joe Crowley. All seen as long shots, we follow along as they attempt to defy the odds. Bush, Swearengin, and Vilela never really have a chance (it’s not spoiling things, since all were assumed to be surefire losers), though we see the star rise for the woman soon to be known as AOC. History shows that she would eventually pull off one of the great primary upsets in recent political history. This movie shows you how she did it. Rachel Lears directs.

Knock Down the House is the best documentary of the year so far. If you care at all about diversity and representation in politics, this will truly inspire you. Even knowing the outcome of AOC’s election, it’s still incredibly moving to watch it unfold. Watching actual people fight for what they believe in, especially as they’re being told that they can’t do it, shouldn’t do it, and probably were better off not trying, is tremendously compelling stuff. Ocasio-Cortez is a star, so seeing her succeed like this actually becomes emotional in the final act. In a very real way, this is as dramatic as any narrative feature could have hoped to be.

Rachel Lears is one lucky filmmaker. Even without AOC, she’d have made something fascinating, but lucking into the phenomenon that was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a gift from the cinematic gods. Lears features the other women just enough to get a sense of their stories and why they’re on these quests, but she knows that Ocasio-Cortez is gold and rightly focuses on her as much as possible. Less of her would have made this more of a downer, while too much more would have made it feel just about her and not the movement that she was a part of. The mixture is on point for the documentary that Lears set out to make. She just lucked into a superstar too.

As of today, you can stream Knock Down the House on Netflix, so anyone with even a cursory interest in this top has no excuse. It’s one of the better films of the year so far, and easily the top 2019 documentary right now, so the quality is there. It may even be an Oscar nominee when all is said and done. Academy Award prospects aside, it’s simply an essential movie for our times. As political docs go, it’s one of the best in some time. Whatever your politics are, we should all want regular folks involved in the system. This film wonderfully makes the case, showing you how change is truly possible. It’s a winner…

Be sure to check out Knock Down the House, now streaming on Netflix!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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