At the Michigan Theater
Roadside Attractions

4 out of 5 stars

Change seems to be in demand these days. But the adjustment in the White House is only half the battle. The next biggest issue is the American economy, so it seems only appropriate to release a weighty film like “I.O.U.S.A.” in the wake of an emotional and groundbreaking storm like the presidential campaign. “I.O.U.S.A.” is an eye-opening documentary about our economy that’s meant to shock its viewers, and above all, explain how fucked we are in the near future.

The movie is about the United States’ national debt. The premise is simple: The debt is growing, and at its current rate, children today will be left with nothing in the future. The movie makes it very explicit that the luxuries of today are being paid for using our generation’s money. While the problem seems very simple — Americans are spending more than they’re saving — the documentary carefully explains that in reality, the situation is compounded by a number of factors.

The national debt is a subject many Americans don’t know a whole lot about, a fact the movie demonstrates with interviews of several ordinary people. And to some degree, it makes sense. The average person isn’t inclined to learn about the various complications of the national debt because of all the financial jargon associated with the topic. However, this is an area where “I.O.U.S.A.” shines. The film does a great job explaining all the terminology in a way that pretty much anyone can understand. And for even greater clarification, the explanations are supplemented by an array of helpful visual aids.

But like many other documentaries focusing on sociopolitical issues, “I.O.U.S.A.” attempts to scare the piss out of you. With details like the fact that the United States is over $8 trillion in debt, a good majority of which is held by foreign governments (who can use it to gain leverage over us), the scare tactics work. Again, the movie is structured very logically so that none of the predictions seem farfetched. To add weight to the facts, the movie includes interviews with some of the most powerful men in the country, like investment guru Warren Buffett, former Secretary of State Robert Rubin and former Federal Reserve Chairmen Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan.

The one problem with the documentary is that after shocking the audience with the alarming truth, hardly any time is devoted to proposing solutions to the problems. Out of roughly the 90 minute running time, only a fraction is devoted to figuring out how the United States is supposed to dig itself out of its own mess. But one can surmise that maybe there is no way out, and we’re all inevitably doomed because of the unsustainable lifestyle Americans enjoy.

On the other hand, by not establishing any real solutions, the movie may be trying to yank viewers from their comfort zones. After all, if we know something is already being done to fix a very serious problem, why should we change the way we live? Either way, the problem is very real, and hopefully Americans will finally wake up and do something about it.

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