Casting JonBenet (Green, 2017)

Kudos to Kitty Green for keeping this immensely gossipy doc tethered to a concept she could pull off. I was weary at first, because the actors in this run through almost every sordid speculation about the JonBenet Ramsey case there is. A lot of picking up the pieces, but laying them straight? I don’t know. Some theories are more credible than others. Most are refracted through the subjective lenses of these hitherto unknown subjects, who reveal intimate details about their own lives in order to understand what might have happened to the doomed beauty queen. That’s basically the key to Green’s approach: to process the trauma of strangers, we need to first process our own. By doing so, we can try to build the empathy we need to see and consider other viewpoints.

This is why the doc starts out with a generally catty view of the Ramsey parents (particularly the late Patsy), and then gradually mellows into something much more complex. It doesn’t absolve them of anything, and it remains to be seen whether one or both really were complicit in JonBenet’s death. But I like that it keeps every possible solution just that: possibility. The final few minutes, with all the actors recreating versions of what could be the truth, is a great visual statement of Green’s prerogatives. And even if this crime is solved someday, Casting JonBenet will remain relevant because of how it processes the psychological experience of death, grief and uncertainty.