Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, o.k.? A guy goes to a storage yard sale and buys a BBQ smoker. When he gets it home to clean it out, he finds a real human foot inside. Ever the entrepreneur, the man decides to charge people money to see it but when the person who the foot belonged to gets wind of this, he wants it back. It’s his foot! However much like buying a mattress and finding cash tucked inside of it, the courts typically side with a “finders keepers” point of view so the man who the foot belonged to can’t have it. Ready for the punchline? This isn’t a joke. It’s the premise for the funny and sad documentary Finders Keepers.
Finders Keepers is the latest zany “can you believe these guys!” doc from filmmaker J. Clay Tweel (teamed with co-director Bryan Carberry here) who made one of my most favorite documentaries ever, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Finders Keepers is pretty much a kissing cousin to that film (no dig at the southern folks depicted intended) in that with King of Kong there’s a protagonist who’s a simple guy, struggling to live his life and he suddenly comes up against a narcissistic megalomaniac who kicks his life into another gear. In Finders Keepers the everyman is struggling addict John Wood and his sudden enemy (besides himself) is the fame-hungry Shannon Whisnant, a self-described comedian, famous person in waiting and entrepreneur. Whisnant isn’t the first two of those things and anyone can be an “entrepreneur” so I’ll let him hang onto that title.
At first I was feeling a bit uneasy about Finders Keepers because I’m against poor people being made fun of. I used to laugh and laugh at the website “People of Walmart” until I realized it was exploiting poor people in order to make other people laugh. That isn’t cool. Plus as a documentary filmmaker myself I know how fine a line it is to feature a, shall we say “different” personality, and not exploit them. Finders Keepers feels like it’s going to be an hour-plus of laughing at the expense of poor southern people but luckily I stuck with it as the film is ultimately about the struggles people from all walks of life face. Oh, and it’s also about two guys arguing over a human foot.
While I personally don’t recall the story it apparently made massive headlines back in the early 2000’s. It was a story just too weird not to grab attention and the fact a man found a human foot in a BBQ is just the start of it. As he states in the doc, Whisnant was just the person to find this foot. Many, hell most, other people would just call the police and get rid of it. But Whisnant is a self-proclaimed fame whore and rather than get grossed out and move on, he tries to capitalize on it by showboating and eventually bullying the drug addled Wood into fighting him in public over the appendage. Whisnant gets off on the fame no matter how fleeting and just as the pain from Wood’s life choices deeply affects his family, Whisnant’s relentless attempt to get into the public eye put major strain on his loved ones.
I won’t go into the details of how Wood lost the foot or what happens because Finders Keepers is an entertaining documentary worth your time. While it is indeed funny because of the goofy cast of characters, it ends up being a moving reflection on the struggles many people face with family, drugs, alcohol and never feeling good enough with who they are.
(Finders Keepers is distributed in the US by The Orchard and is available on iTunes & VOD now)