There’s a lot of "desperation" in Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney, but unfortunately most of it doesn’t have anything to do with the former Beatle. The film is a mockumentary attempting to make something out of nothing. It fails on nearly every level.
In 1965 Ruth Anson was a spirited teen correspondent for ABC News. Through her charm and perseverance she was able to push her way to the front lines and interview the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Princess Margaret, Bob Hope, and Lana Turner. Vintage clips of these interviews are interspersed throughout Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney. And of course, there is the interview that eventually inspired this film – Paul McCartney. It seems that at the end of a Beatles press conference, Anson got in one last question to McCartney: “Do you have any plans to get married soon?”
“Only if you’ll marry me now,” McCartney quipped back to the stunned Anson.
Forty-one years later Anson can’t get the comment out of her mind. Anxious to reconnect with McCartney, Anson pitches her tale at an open call for story ideas. The panel of Hollywood “insiders” is somewhat intrigued, but tells her she doesn’t have enough material. “Come up with a good story, drop Paul, and make the main character in her thirties,” they tell her. “No Paul?” says a disenchanted Anson in what may be one of the few genuine scenes in this film.
Mark Cushman, a screenwriter, decides there may be something to Anson’s story. He rounds up a “crew” to document Anson’s quest to find Paul McCartney. It is at this point the movie goes from documentary to mockumentary. It’s hard to say whether the original intention of the film was to stage everything, but that is the end result. It seems entirely possible that this project found itself with unusable footage and resorted to staged situations to salvage what little material they had.
Unfortunately, instead of amusing and/or interesting scenes of Anson attempting to “find Paul,” there are endless scenes of Cushman and his crew – which consists of a couple of PAs and a cameraman – making telephone calls. Most of the calls are to unnamed people who supposedly may have some connection to McCartney or Anson. The crew, who were clearly rounded up from some local college’s drama department, do not seem to have ever been involved in a film production in their lives. One PA said that he signed on based on the fact that Cushman must be legit because he wrote an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (a quick search on the Internet reveals that Cushman only has a story credit for one episode of the show).
Most of film is done like a reality show complete with talking head video diaries and manufactured conflict. The obvious setups include crew members quitting in disgust, doors getting slammed in Ruth Anson’s face, and a therapy session for Anson. There is even a bizarre intervention in which Anson’s “friends and family” try to convince her to save some dignity and drop out of the project. That may have been good advice if it wasn’t clear that Anson was in on the whole thing.
An interesting aspect about Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney is that, despite the staging, there are a couple of situations that must be real because there would have been no way to fake them. The most notable is the production’s attempt to track down McCartney at the Grammys. In a Bowfinger-esque move, the crew attempts to capture whatever they can despite their lack of invitations to the event. Anson shouts to anyone walking by that McCartney once proposed to her. The segment is a reminder of what this movie could have and should have been — a realistic look at Anson’s willingness to do anything to reconnect with McCartney.
The most honest moment in the entire film comes from adult film star, Ron Jeremy. I would like to say Mr. Jeremy’s cameo was a surprise, but his name appears in the opening credits of the film. Mr. Jeremy, in what may have actually been an unplanned event, shows up in the background of the Grammy footage. “Is that Ron Jeremy?” says a surprised Mark Cushman. “He was saying hello to me,” the cameraman explains. Unfortunately the cameraman does not elaborate on how he happens to know Ron Jeremy.
For no other reason than to gain a little “star” power in the film, Cushman sends Anson to interview Mr. Jeremy. Anson, of course, wastes no time in telling Jeremy about McCartney’s “proposal,” and wonders what her next step should be. “Give up!” says Jeremy. “He didn’t [propose] and if you think he did, you're a fruit loop.” Anson actually isn’t a “fruit loop.” Like a lot of us, she is looking to reclaim a bit of her youth. If this film had been about that, it could have been good. In this case the filmmakers obviously didn’t trust their material, manipulating everything until almost every ounce of reality was drained out.
I also have to note that this DVD suffered from a major technical mistake. The titles were formatted incorrectly. The subtitles and credits are half off of the screen, making everything practically unreadable. There is not a lot in the way of features, but this DVD does have one that I have never seen before. The original songs written for the movie can be listened to on their own, accessible via a separate menu and accompanied by music-video style footage of a Beatles' tribute band. Since they could not afford the licensing to actual Beatles songs, twelve “Beatles type” songs were written for the film. One of the songs was written by Jeff Toczynski, a Paul McCartney inpersonator, who also makes a seeminly embarrassed appearance in the film.