Sherman's March

First Run Features

While it’s sold as a comedic Western, A Million Ways to Die in the West is not a very good Western at all. Oh, it may take place in the 19th century American frontier and feature pistol duels, saloon brawls and farming, but its story is completely 21st century romance. The movie is your standard “nice guy loses girl, tries to win her back and discovers a much better girl in the process” affair. The setting is nothing but window dressing. It isn’t even exploited for very many jokes, good or otherwise – and most of the jokes are bad. But there’s one upside to this misaimed move on the part of writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane. He’s put himself in similar thematic territory with an already existing film. And that film does relationships and humor much, much better.

Sherman’s March is a supremely strange piece of work. Originally, director Ross McElwee set out to retrace the route General Tecumseh Sherman took on his March to the Sea during the Civil War. Sherman earned the eternal enmity of the American South by ruthlessly razing everything in his army’s path. But McElwee wreaks a very different kind of destruction, endless self-scrutiny. Early on in production, his girlfriend dumped him, and the documentary became something new. In the film, he interviews his family and friends, with a special emphasis on the women he has known and tried (and/or failed) to romance. This offbeat journey takes him and the people he meets through a wide variety of 1980s subject matter, from nuclear war to the career of Burt Reynolds. It’s a 2½-houe epic of cringeworthy encounters, bizarre non sequiturs and moments of surprising grace or insight.

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