Review by Sean Boelman
Taking a look at the impact of one of the most horrific tragedies in American history, After Parkland is a new documentary exploring the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. However, despite the wealth of personal stories from which the filmmakers drew, the film underwhelms due to an overbearing attempt to make a political statement.
The movie tells the story of the victims of the shooting, with a focus on the survivors and how they overcome the grief and trauma from what they have experienced. There is a lot of story here, and directors Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi (both of whom come from a background in ABC News) try their best to juggle it all, but unfortunately, they are unable to do so in a way that feels balanced and fully developed.
Out of the hundreds of victims, Lefferman and Taguchi chose a handful to follow over the course of the film, mostly because of their political activism. However, with some of these selections comes the idea that the movie is rehearsed and distanced from the truth. The most authentic and effective moments in the film come not from interviews with the more politically active survivors, but rather, those who are simply trying to make it through life with the weight of their grief hanging over their head.
It becomes obvious very early on that Lefferman and Taguchi are using this movie to make a statement about gun control, and while there is merit to their argument, the way in which they go about supporting it on screen is largely unsuccessful. In one interview, the subject even discusses how Lefferman and Taguchi are pushing him to talk about something other than what he had intended.
On an emotional level, one would think that this film would be immediately resonant because of how heart-breaking the tragedy at its core is, but it isn’t always the home run that one would expect. After a while, the movie’s repeated attempts at tear-jerking start to feel monotonous and end up losing much of their effect. The more affecting moments come when the film is trying to be uplifting, showing how these victims are overcoming the odds to beat their grief.
Clocking in at just over an hour and a half long, the movie simply doesn’t have enough time to explore all of the moving parts of the story with sufficient depth. Lefferman and Taguchi’s approach to the story likely would have lent itself more readily to an extended television special or a miniseries rather than a theatrical documentary like this.
Visually, Lefferman and Taguchi’s documentary is somewhat lackluster, but that can almost be forgiven because of the run-and-gun-like nature of the film. This movie picks up with the victims very soon after the shooting, and as a result, there wasn’t much time for planning. Lefferman and Taguchi do the best they can with the footage they have, but in more cinematic hands, this story could have been far more captivating.
After Parkland is worth watching if only to hear the stories of its subjects, but there will likely be another film down the line that handles this topic more effectively. Still, this movie does have enough going for it that it could be the conversation starter that is needed for these discussions.
After Parkland will be screening nationwide for one night only on February 12. Reserve tickets by February 3 at bit.ly/afterparkland. The film will then stream on Hulu beginning February 19.