Finders Keepers is the best comedy of tragic idiots that the Coen brothers never had the chance to make. It’s certainly not the most important documentary of the year, and it might not end up being the best, but it’ll most likely be the most entertaining. Though even while it makes you laugh from the farcical nature of the situation, there’s a thoughtful social commentary that studies many harsh aspects of the human condition.
In a horrific plane crash that took his father’s life, John Wood’s leg was amputated, and in a very unorthodox request John asked to keep his limb to shred it to the bone and use it for a memorial for his father. John went through the long process of preserving it and keeping it safe in a grill only to lose that grill with the leg inside as he got behind storage locker payments where he kept both.
Amateur entrepreneur and all-round hustler Shannon Whisnant happened to purchase that storage locker and refused to give the leg back to John despite polite and reasonable requests. With all the attention, he sees it as an opportunity to make his millions using it as a tourist attraction and even invites John on the deal. When an agreement is not settled, it’s taken to be one of the most unique legal battles the courts have ever seen. Can one really buy someone else’s body parts?
Most everyone else in the documentary finds the situation bafflingly bizarre including John, and it’s hilarious, though interesting to see what the foot means to these various people. Any reaction you have is reflected in a ideally sourced clip from the media. If it weren’t for solid proof it happened, you’d think it was a perfectly scripted mockumentary. Much of the men’s conflict is shown on television, both in candid media appearances and on televised courtrooms. In the world of Finders Keepers – television caused, provoked and then solves their problems.
While John has his own human story, the source of the bizarre conflict is from Shannon’s lifetime ambition to be an everyday television personality, despite how absolutely unlikely it is. There’s a deep undercurrent of bittersweetness in how the dreams of fame and fortune can cloud someone and drive them to such madness, even though it’s so utterly far from their grasp. The genius of the film is that it studies Shannon eventually tasting it, and ironically through the film itself, and it rings painfully true in the absurdity of those ambitions that we can all admit to at some times.
The film certainly does paint Shannon as the bad guy but John is no saint. He’s a drug addict and throughout most of the film’s chronology of events, it’s pointed out that he’s high, something that tears his family apart. They’re both such efficiently funny characters in their outlandish statements that they don’t have to try, but they’re also deeply poignant in their human flaws. The direction from Clay Tweel and Bryan Carberry compliments both sides, balancing our sympathies.
However, the filmmakers don’t catch up to date with our subjects until about an hour into the film when the drama is seemingly resolved. Fortunately, it has more personal reconciliation to explore and that’s where the film finds its most compelling moments as the people we’ve been following find some hope beyond the foot. The Coens would not have offered such satisfying resolutions so it’s a treat to have this stranger than fiction story in this tightly constructed documentary form that breezes by with equal substance.
Also, yes to your morbid curiosity, you do see the elusive mangled foot. It’s gross.