The year is 2001, the city is Seattle and Grant Cogswell (Joel David Moore) is a highly strung, neurotic young music critic who decides to run for the City Council. He argues that the lack of decent public transport isolates poor people without cars in the suburbs, so they don’t get the nice jobs in the city centre.
Grant's single issue is the “beautiful monorail” which he wants more of - there is only one line bestriding Seattle, which is way too inadequate and hardly puts a dent in the city's serious traffic congestion.
Plus he is against big money. He aims to unseat City Councillor Richard McGyver, the only black man on the council, who he decides is his arch enemy. In student cafes and bars, and at press conferences, Grant tells his student constituency that McGyver is bad news, in league with the “construction bozos.” Trouble is McGyver doesn't seem like a genuine crook, which becomes part of an interesting ambiguity in the story.
Anyway, Grant shouts and roars every time he is on screen. He is highly uncomfortable in his jumpy skin, complaining about the shoes that hurt him, permanently close to tears. It doesn't help much that he looks like Peter Tork from the Monkees. And, eh, he dresses up in a polar bear suit for effect.
From a viewing tower, looking out over the cityscape, he points out to his more streetwise friend Phil Campbell (Jason Biggs) how much land the City Council has bought up. They have plans to build a light rail system, which he insists will in fact be heavy rail, and only cause serious pollution. Lots of people, he says will be put out of their homes and the buildings will be knocked down to make room for the railway.
After he gets Phil to be his manager, the campaign creakily gets off the ground. Grant's distinct lack of polish and his gutsy air of truth-telling eventually wins him sizable student support. So he finds a geeky, old-fashioned suit and goes on television and radio and the campaign gathers steam.
The movie is set in 2001, the twin towers are hit and the campaign suddenly looks irrelevant. Indeed after all the undergraduate playing-at-politics lark, Grassroots looks like it might suddenly become a plangent elegy. But the movie resists that turning in the road and the campaign gathers momentum again after that dip
Based on true events, Grassroots is not a bad movie. But think of some of the single issue political candidates you have come across and remember how your eyes - and indeed ears - glazed over.
Just because it is the city of Seattle, and there is beautiful backdrop of mysterious mountains doesn’t make it much more exotic. But if you want a noisy indie movie that's feel good and a bit cheesy, then this one is for you. Opens November 9.