Published on May 18th, 2014 | by Joe Lawler
Review: Bacon Fest’s ‘State of Bacon’ mockumentary
UPDATE: Tonight (May 22) is the last night of “State of Bacon” at Fleur Cinema. They’re marking the night with a “State of Bacon Blowout Bash” during the 7 p.m. showing. Your ticket gets free bacon, and the first 50 people get a free beer and a free koozie. Three pairs of 2015 Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival VIP tickets will be given to the best bacon-inspired costume, the best bacon t-shirt and the best “ode to bacon.”
For the sake of journalistic integrity, I should point out that I am in a few shots of this movie. But the same could be said of almost everyone who attended the 2013 Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, where the majority of “State of Bacon” was filmed.
There are two essential truths about the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. OK, there are probably more than two, but for the sake of this review I’m going with two. Both also work for “State of Bacon,” the new movie from the bacon fest organizers and writer/director Jason Cook.
Essential truth No. 1: Not every piece of bacon at the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival is perfect. Some are underdone, some are overcooked, but when you get the right piece it’s amazing.
Sometimes a chef tries something crazy and it just doesn’t work out, but it’s better to try and fail than to play it safe. There are perfect pieces of bacon in “State of Bacon.” Normally they’re the slightly more surreal moments, like Des Moines residents running through the streets, shouting about the start of bacon fest. The scene has people in odd costumes and a recreation of the running of the bulls, but with pigs. It just works.
Or Sen. Charles Grassley and Gov. Terry Branstad speaking about bacon in Iowa and even pardoning a pig. Or pro wrestler Hacksaw Jim Duggan interacting with PETA protesters at the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. They’re moments that seem almost too weird to believe really happened, but they did. Who would have thought our governor would appear in a film moments after some fairly graphic pig sex.
Speaking of graphic pig sex, at times the film might go too far. It opens with two pigs “makin’ bacon” before moving on to the birth of piglets and finally, the slaughter and butchering of a pig. I think seeing how bacon makes its way to your plate is a fascinating segment, but at the same time I’m not sure how familiar with pig genitalia I really want to be.
The movie is largely done in mockumentary style, which works, but it occasionally breaks from that format and when it does the results are more iffy. Several times it cuts to bacon fest founder Brooks Reynolds telling the story of the festival to some beautiful women in a bar. The scenes don’t entirely work, and seem a bit out of place in a pseudo-documentary. But they do set up a pretty good gag involving the bacon queen’s bacon dress. But that probably could have been set up another way.
There’s a sub plot of two grade-school kids creating a cooking show so they can get access to the 21 and older event. It’s charming, but what really works is the segments of their fictional show, filmed at The Gramercy Tap and Gusto Pizza Co. The director, Cook, does a great job of changing up the style for these, recreating the feel of a cable food show. These kids hosting a real cooking show in this style could really work. Someone needs to jump on that idea.
It’s worth pointing out that Iowa Bacon Board member Seth Hall has some strong comedic chops. He’s not overused in the film, but he has several moments where he pops. Sort of like a young Bill Murray.
A real documentary about the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival might work just as well. Shots captured wandering the bacon concourse and thousands of fans lining up really capture the feel of the event. It’s also interesting to see inserted segments like Anderson Cooper talking about the event.
Essential truth No. 2: Half of the fun of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival is the bacon fellowship. It wouldn’t be the same without people dressed up, drinking tall boys of Coors Banquet and shouting “OHHH bacon!” What Cook at the Iowa Bacon Board may have created with “State of Bacon” is something close to Iowa’s own “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Watching it on your own on DVD is an entirely different experience from watching it with an enthusiastic theater crowd when the beer and bacon is flowing.
In the end, “State of Bacon” is a little scattershot. Much like the dishes at bacon fest, sometimes a bacon-wrapped idea sounds amazing, but sometimes the execution is a little off. Overall, it works, but there’s a bit of fat that could still be cooked off.
“State of Bacon” screens through Thursday at Fleur Cinema.