Every week, new original films debut on Netflix and other streaming services, often to much less fanfare than their big-screen counterparts. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.
Knock Down the House
The premise: In the run-up to the 2018 midterms, documentarian Rachel Lears followed four progressive women who challenged incumbent Democrats for their Congressional seats. They weren’t all successful — but the film is uplifting and hopeful for anyone who wants their political candidates to truly represent the communities they come from.
What it’s about: Knock Down the House is the rare documentary about today’s American political landscape that might make you shed happy tears. It’s about four progressive Democratic candidates, all women, ran primary campaigns against establishment Democrats in the midterm elections: Amy Vilela in Nevada, Cori Bush in Missouri, Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.
Only Ocasio-Cortez was ultimately successful in her bid, and Knock Down the House feels, in the end, as if it’s mostly her story. (The fact that she is incredibly charismatic doesn’t hurt; a scene in which she deconstructs the graphic design of her opponent’s campaign materials is unexpectedly unforgettable.)
But Lear smartly uses candidates from across the country, living in very different communities with different political terrain, to make a larger point: Whether or not you agree with a given individual’s politics at every point, there’s a hunger to upend America’s current ruling class.
Since 2016, much of the chatter from pundits and media has been about that hunger, insofar as it intersected with Donald Trump’s rhetoric. But now, the women Lear selected as subjects for her film, and others who were elected to Congress, represent a different path for politicians who advocate for ordinary people. It’s a path that also rings more authentic, given they actually come from the same background as the constituents they’re bidding to serve.
Knock Down the House is obviously a liberal, feel-good movie. But it sounds a broad note of hope: It’s not just blowhard billionaires with media expertise who have a chance to represent “real America.” Plain old shoe-leather canvassing and showing up in your community can make a real difference.
Critical consensus: Knock Down the House currently has a Metacritic score of 83. At Variety, Amy Nicholson writes, “Knock Down the House has a clear political agenda. It wants to promote the hard work, courage and progressive policies of these women, who have all experienced financial hardship. Still, the film lets its subjects do the talking instead of cluttering things with statistics.”
Where to watch: Knock Down the House is playing in select theaters (check your local listings) and streaming on Netflix.