‘Casting JonBenét’ with character auditions instead of facts

May 16, 2017 — by Chelsea Leung and Alexandra Li

In 1996, a 6-year-old beauty pageant queen, JonBenét Ramsey, was killed in her home in Boulder, Colo., leading to a media frenzy and shock across America.

False leads, multiple suspects, rookie police mistakes and a three-page ransom note confused the police and dragged the case on, resulting in it being still unsolved today.

The Netflix original documentary “Casting JonBenét,” which came out on April 28, seeks to examine the case in a new light by bringing in the public’s opinion. Director Kitty Green decided to experiment with a new genre, creating a movie that mixes a normal documentary with actors auditioning for specific roles.

Although the previews intrigued us, the actual documentary is lackluster and fails largely because of its baffling disorganization.

The film begins with seven little blonde girls, all wearing the exact same blue dress and red shoes, running on the screen and sitting down. Confused at first, we soon realized that these girls were auditioning to play the role of JonBenét Ramsey. We could already tell that it was no standard documentary, which usually explains facts through real footage and photos.

The movie then shows prospective actors holding their clapperboards as they introduce themselves and what they have in common with the characters whose roles they’re hoping to fulfill. Actors audition for the roles of JonBenét Ramsey; JonBenét’s parents, Patsy and John; JonBenét’s brother, Burke; a Santa Claus impersonator who knew JonBenét and John Mark Karr, a pedophile who falsely confessed to killing JonBenét.

The auditioning actors are from Boulder and therefore have at least tangential connections to JonBenét; for example, one woman auditioning for Patsy recalls driving past the Ramsey house on her daily commute to work.

The documentary strangely blurs the line between JonBenét Ramsey’s case and the actors’ own lives as the actors draw on their own experiences, such as the murder of a close family member or witnessing parental abuse, to examine the people related to the JonBenét Ramsey case.

This type of documentary, in which people surrounding the case are explored instead of the main people involved, is a trademark style of Green, who wanted to make the documentary more about the public’s fascination with this case rather than the case itself.

Unfortunately, we sometimes couldn’t tell when the actors were in character and speaking from the audition script or speaking as themselves. Additionally, some of the actors’ words are completely unrelated to the case and inappropriate, which made us very uncomfortable.

With so many different actors auditioning for different roles, the only aspect that distinguished what role they were playing was their clothing, with Patsy wearing a red shirt and others styled as their respective characters.

Although the audition process was sometimes confusing, at the same time, it was interesting to see the actors auditioning for each role because they each had a different perspective on the characters, interpreting the lines in their own way, thereby showing the many angles of each character.  

Information about the case is gleaned from the actors’ words as they tell the story they heard in the news, and most of it seems to be accurate: the three-page ransom note, JonBenét’s injuries including a broken skull from a blow to head, her cause of death being strangulation and the whereabouts of certain characters.

Occasionally, the actors act out a scene like JonBenét’s father finding JonBenét’s body in the basement, but this is also confusing since we didn’t know whether we were watching a documentary about JonBenét or a documentary about the actors.

As the movie progresses, we hear of the different theories that each of the actors has. Some strongly believe that Patsy killed her daughter by accident and out of anger; others believed the murderer was Burke, who was 9 at the time, and his parents who were covering for him. Most believed the murder had to be within the family because the lengthy ransom note was written with a pen and a pad paper from within the Ramsey house.

In the end, we found that watching the documentary to be a waste of time. In fact, reading a quick Wikipedia article would have given us the exact same information, with less random rambling by the actors.

Although the film attempts to use an innovative method of storytelling to make up for its lack of new insight on the case, we didn’t see a point in listening to other people’s inexpert speculations for an hour and 20 minutes.

 

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