SCANDALOUS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER -- An Unsensational Journalism Doc
Review by Sean Boelman
Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer, directed by Mark Landsman, is a new documentary exploring the history of the eponymous tabloid. However, with the height of the “fake news” hysteria having just passed, one can’t help but feel like this reminder of the most notorious purveyors of exaggerated journalism is coming a bit too late to be of much relevance.
One would be hard pressed to find a name more infamous in journalism than the National Enquirer, so it makes sense that there would be a documentary made about their rise to fame, or perhaps more appropriately, rise to shame. Yet despite the wealth of shocking headlines which this film had at its disposal to explore, Landsman and his crew chose to document some of the most well-known controversies in the newspaper’s history, causing the film to be nowhere near as insightful as it should be.
Granted, the film does move between the different stories it is exploring at a rapid pace, keeping the film relatively entertaining, but much like the publication serving as the subject of this film, it frequently feels underwhelming, and sometimes even inadequate, more focus being placed on stoking the fire rather than contributing anything meaningful or of legitimate substance to the conversation.
Perhaps the film’s greatest weakness is that it does not contain much diversity in its interviewees. Almost all of the people interviewed for the film were former journalists who worked at the Enquirer during the “good ol’ days” (if there ever was such a thing at a publication known for their cutthroat nature). After a while, one becomes tired of hearing these former journalists whining about what their former workplace has become. But of course, no interviews are included with the people who were involved in the headlines, or even with the current leadership, such as David Pecker.
Like any good issue of a tabloid magazine, there is so much energy in the narrative of this film that it often becomes dizzying. As one would expect, this is definitely a very eye-catching documentary, but beyond the facade of glossy editing and extremely well-framed interviews is the truth that this film exists for little reason other than to attempt to prove the importance of a medium that has since become so easy for anyone to replicate.
Much of the film’s runtime is dedicated to defending the work that the writers being interviewed did as “real journalism”. Still, it is easy to see past all of the euphemisms used by the interviewees like “ethically questionable” to realize that these people understand (and understood at the time) that what they did is completely unsound on an ethical level. It is absolutely baffling that the film tries to defend them even when the people themselves admit that what they did was wrong.
The other thing with which this film seems to be preoccupied is ensuring that it is relevant itself. Some of the stories addressed in the film, such as the Enquirer promoting Trump in the 2016 election, feel timely and interesting, yet only a measly ten minutes are spent on this. Others, like ones including Bill Cosby or Arnold Schwarzenneger, make the film seem like it was meant to come out years ago when those people were still dominating the headlines.
Although some portions of the film are quite amusing, Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer is a largely disappointing documentary that doesn’t take full advantage of its subject material. By desperately trying to be relevant, Landsman instead delivers a film that feels more like fluff than breaking news.
Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer is now in theaters and on VOD.
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