Documentaries are supposed to give viewers a glimpse at life. They’re supposed to show a section of the world that they may not be familiar with or a highlight a group of individuals that are interesting enough to follow for a couple hours. But simply pointing your camera at locations and people does not derive meaning or create interest. In recent years, this was most clearly seen with 2010’s horribly overrated Babies, which somehow managed to fool its gullible viewers into thinking it had some profound meaning. This week’s newest documentary, Tchoupitoulas, is largely the same. There’s nothing interesting, fun, funny or meaningful about it and it’s a complete bore, only slightly better than Babies and slightly worse than getting a root canal.
The film, which gets its name from Tchoupitoulas St. in Louisiana, follows three brothers as they discover New Orleans nightlife for the first time, though for no real reason. They just decide to go there and a whole lot of nothing happens. The film makes brief pit stops in an attempt to spice things up a bit, including in the prep room of what appears to be a strip club, but it never explains their significance, aside from the broad portrayals of New Orleans eccentricity the film is trying to capture. It also makes stops at a club where a rapper performs in front of an enthusiastic crowd, a restaurant where an innocently flirtatious waiter serves up oysters and even a few park benches where men feud and the homeless sing the blues, but what this has to do with the story of three young kids discovering New Orleans nightlife, I have no idea.
Presumably because the kids aren’t old enough to enter into many of New Orleans’ more colorful establishments, they are repeatedly left behind in favor of the filmmakers’ own extraneous exploration, but such a tactic is contradictory to the movie’s very own synopsis. One can’t help but question what the point is. What story is the film trying to tell? Is this a coming-of-age tale where these three kids are thrust into an unusual situation and forced to grow up due to the hardships and perversions they’re witnessing? Or is this simply a point-and-shoot movie with no real goal? Based on the evidence here, I’d go with the latter. Anybody can point a camera at some unsavory characters and call it a documentary, but it takes something extra to actually make it so.
Eventually, the kids board what looks to be an abandoned steamboat and sneak around for no decipherable reason (nothing says New Orleans like an abandoned steamboat). I suppose they’re hoping to find something interesting, much like the movie itself. Also like the movie itself, they don’t. They just walk around, look at some things and then leave. Not once in its blissfully short hour and 20 minute runtime does Tchoupitoulas muster up any sense of reason, feeling or insight. It coasts along on a thin premise and, perhaps unsurprisingly, creates an even thinner film from it. There’s nothing to admire here and, unless you’re in dire need of sleep, no reason to turn it on.
Tchoupitoulas receives 1/5