For decades Louis Theroux has mounted a one-man study of all the strangest subcultures in America for the BBC. Dryly funny and endlessly inquisitive, Theroux has a way of hanging around communities long enough to get even his most difficult subjects to open up (he was the man who cast the first spotlight on the Westboro Baptist Church after all). For his latest project, Theroux went after possibly his most difficult group to date: The Church Of Scientology. The science fiction faith has been ridiculed and studied enough that they need no introduction. In fact, anyone with even the faintest understanding of how that organization operates should realize the immense difficulty Theroux would face trying to get any access. Fortunately, the guy came up with a pretty novel approach to the material.
Knowing that he’d never have a shot at interviewing anyone within the church, Theroux instead partnered up with notorious Scientology figurehead-turned-deserter Marty Rathbun to stage some of his most troubling inside stories with actors. The goal was to get the attention of the spying n’ blackmailing organization and document the lengths they go to block any project that dares to speak out against their practices. Sure enough, in between the humorous spectacle of Theroux auditioning Tom Cruise lookalikes, camera crews sent from Scientology start aggressively filming Theroux. Legal threats seem to arrive daily and eventually the church starts threatening Louis right to his face.
It’s perhaps a depressingly predictable spectacle, but one that is nevertheless rather disturbing and certainly paints the church in a far worse light than they would have come off from by merely participating in interviews. Even Marty Rathbun proves to be a contentious and often angry partner in the process, casting a little shade on his longstanding allegations and narratives. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t shed any particular new light on Scientology. However, that was never really the point of the movie despite what Louis himself claims in the narration. Instead, it’s an examination of the absurd ways the church reacts when challenged and the results alternate from creepy to absolutely hysterical Monty Pythonesque lunacy. It’s likely not Theroux’s best or most insightful documentary to date, but it’s possibly his funniest and most absurd. Given the career of the former host of documentary series entitled Weird Weekends, that might be the finest compliment that Louis Theroux or his film could ever receive.
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