SXSW 2013 Film Review: We Cause Scenes

A movie review article by: Nate Abernethy

We Cause Scenes is a film that is entirely impossible to dislike. For any viewer familiar with the origins of Improv Everywhere there are no real surprises, no giant revelations and no shocking twists. I wouldn't have it any other way.  The film simply allows you to join in and feel like you're part of the fun whether you're a longtime improv fan or someone brand new to the scene. Within the first five minutes of the film if you don't have a ridiculous grin stuck to your face, then you're a hopeless curmudgeon. 



We Cause Scenes documents the beginnings and rise of Improv Everywhere as well as its creator Charlie Todd. While Charlie is a huge focus of the documentary and is an intensely likable and admirable guy in his own, the film never feels like it's in danger of leaning into biopic territory. Director Matt Adams and Charlie himself are very careful to emphasize that despite Charlie's huge influence that this is a story about the mission of Improv Everywhere. Improv Everywhere's goal is happiness, to give strangers a fun experience and a memorable story to tell. What started off as Charlie and his friends finding fun ways to kill time transforms into a massive movement to bring a little joy to ordinary, everyday life. The film focuses mainly on footage of the missions that range from a no pants subway ride to a fake U2 rooftop concert and their preparations, as well as the growth and exposure of Improv Everywhere. 

Not every mission goes according to plan; the film also touches on instances where the subjects unaware of what's happening feel as if they've been tricked in a malicious way. Despite this it's clear Charlie's intentions are not only overwhelmingly positive and well meaning, but also all inclusive. While each mission does need some strangers not in on the joke, the moments that feel truly magical is when Improv Everywhere agents far outnumber the uninformed observers. Charlie's initial goal may have been just to entertain, but the infectious, joyous nature of Improv Everywhere has also brought participants together as they collaborate on missions. 



I experienced this first hand as I participated in the Mp3 Experiment at Austin's own Auditorium Shores. The basic gist of the Mp3 Experiment is that numerous participants will download an Mp3 track with detailed instructions, go to a public location, and press play at the same time. Instructions included "high-five a stranger," "freeze in place" and it all culminated in a giant balloon fight. While it was a lot of fun to witness the non-participants dubious expressions as hundreds of people square-danced and played freeze tag, the real joy came from interacting and sharing something special with complete strangers. 

This same feeling of joy and inclusion is overwhelming present in We Cause Scenes. Charlie puts it best when he describes that Improv Everywhere provides an opportunity for adults to play in the purest, most child-like sense of the word. You will leave this film anxious to be part of something extraordinary.


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