The Biggest Little Farm

The Biggest Little Farm

There is a trickery to documentaries involving animals that really makes me sick. It's impossible to see a cute animal and not coo and awww at the screen. The problem is, 9/10 times, this trick is used to cover up the fact that the documentary itself has multiple faults. Sometimes it's that the subject itself is problematic, other times the narrative device is manipulative, and often the pure filmmaking is just cheap.

The Biggest Little Farm suffers from all of these problems and more.

The narrative of this film is rather blank. Sure, on paper the journey of someone starting a farm is an arc, but it's so weak, and the actual story of those struggles are never felt. The film tries to use returning problems as a source of tension, but it's undercut by the constant presence of a 'wrench' in the system. This is a film that wants to show you all the problems that could happen when you own a farm, but by listing all those problems, you're left with just a hodgepodge of mush that doesn't have a story beyond the broad strokes. The fact that you ultimately come away feeling like you don't really know the interior lives of any of the people who work on this farm really highlights the main issue. Why should I care about your sustainable farm if you haven't given me a reason to care about you as a human being? A clear narrative arc with real tension, edited down to the biggest problems, would help create that; spending more time interviewing people and discussing their lives beyond farming techniques would garner audience sympathy. Instead, we're just shown a barrage of cute animal footage, and sure, that helps us care for the animals' livelihoods, but that's pretty much a default.

This wonky narrative porridge is made worse by the actual style of this film as a documentary. There's something very For Kids PBS about it that's over-simplified in a condescending way. The goofy animation, the sunshiney voice-over narration, and again, the emphasis on cute animals all feel childish in a way that feels rude to an adult audience. It also feels, frankly, cheap. Being cheap is never a bad thing, but looking cheap certainly is. When this aesthetic is used in YouTube videos that explain abstract concepts in laymen's terms, it's fine, because those professional outlets are trying to do a million different stories and producing something for cheap allows them to create more content. When it's your documentary, though, I don't understand why you wouldn't want to cater to a larger audience, and the only way to do that is by not making your production look cheap.

All these things are small problems in the grand scheme of things, and honestly would put me on the fence, writing this off as a bland documentary that will fall through the cracks like it seems to already be doing since not getting an Oscar nomination. There is still one major issue, though, that outright ruins The Biggest Little Farm for me.

It's the tone.

To call the tone of this film 'condescending' is an understatement. From the very beginning, though, it is obvious that we are about to follow two upper middle class people who insist that they are broke living in one of the biggest cities in the world, LA, who just ~hAvE a DrEaM 0f LiViNG 0n A fArM~ because "life would be simpler." It's a tone that reeks of privilege in the worst possible way. I'm not going to bore any of you with the history of how white American culture has romanticized our "white trash," and I'm not going to go into the history of class exploitation in farming, but I have to talk about the perception of ethical farming for a quick second. Unsurprisingly, farming is incredibly hard work, and by that I mean it is literally science, and a lot of modern farmers are getting degrees to study how to create ethical, sustainable farming methods like the ones advocated in this film. These people are legitimately smart, and it's not something anyone can just wake up one morning and start doing. The problem is that suicide rates among farmers are incredibly high, and the profitability of ethical farming is already at a lower margin than single-crop farming. The farmers who are actually working to create a better method are suffering not only financially, but mentally as well. Knowing this, it's hard to stomach the tone of The Biggest Little Farm. What these people are doing are "play farming" in my honest opinion. They are walking into a scenario they know nothing about, and if they fail, well, they can go back to their old lives as cameraman and chef. The real farmers working to find a way to save our environment through sustainable growth don't have any other choice. They have worked their entire lives to get to this point, and if they fail, it's the end of the line for them. What this film advocates is two people explicitly embrace a form of gentrification [in the pure sense of economic movement], and telling you how great it feels. This erases the pain and suffering of millions of people, and that erasure makes the happy-go-lucky, sing-songy tone of this film downright vile.

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