Watching Paper or Plastic?, the new documentary about the regional qualifiers and Las Vegas final of the 2007 National Grocery Bagging Competition, I was surprised to note the presence of something that's hard to come by in 2008: Sincerity. I don't mean just that Paper or Plastic? never mocks, knocks or condescends to the seven contestants from every corner of America the finale brings together -- although it never does -- but more that co-directors Alex D. da Silva and Justine Jacob not only found an event to observe but also a spirit to celebrate. The seven contestants we meet want to win; their friends and family support and surround them; they're part of a long tradition of competition. And da Silva and Jacob gradually, gently pull us into the world of competitive grocery bagging until, by the end of the film, I was literally at seat's edge watching a contestant race to beat the clock thinking Oh, God, don't forget the Life Savers ... they deduct points for that. ...

But while you're being entertained by Paper or Plastic?, you're also getting a fairly solid glimpse at modern life. One grocery executive notes that the "courtesy walk" taking a customer's well-bagged groceries still matters: "That's the last place Mrs. Consumer still has an impression of the store." And as freaky as the phrase "Mrs. Consumer" sounds in this day and age (all I can imagine is Donna Reed, with apron and pearls), you also realize he means it. Another grocery executive fan of the Championship notes "It's like American Idol; you never know where the stars are. ..." you realize that while what he's saying is a subtle comment on our modern celebrity culture, he, too, also means it.
categories Reviews, Cinematical