Nextfest Review: Finders Keepers, by David Bax
The events depicted in Bryan Cranberry and Clay Tweel’s documentary Finders Keepers are bizarre indeed. But the film succeeds by not being content to simply chronicle them, as grotesquely entertaining as that would certainly be. Cranberry and Tweel depict what unfolded as if it were a sort of kismet. For better or worse, the lives of these two men were forever changed because one of them won an auction for a used barbecue grill.
John Woods lost his leg in a plane crash, the same crash that took his father’s life. In the haze of the drug addiction that followed, John was evicted, placed his belongings in storage and then failed to pay the rent on the lockers. Enter Shannon Whisnant, who placed a winning bid on a grill from John’s locker. When Whisnant got the item home and opened it up, he discovered an amputated human leg inside. John had asked to keep his limb and it was among his possessions.
There’s a dark humor from the jump with a tale as odd as this one and it’s amplified by the fact that both principles are characters through and through. They’re the kind of southern-fried charmers full of oddball witticisms that are ready made for reality television, where one of them did eventually end up for a time. This type of documentary portrayal always gets into murky waters, where it’s unclear if the point is to poke fun. Cranberry and Tweel do indulge in that a bit but balance things with an undeniable compassion. And even if you feel bad about it, it’s hard not to laugh at dryly surreal moments like Whisnant’s wife intoning, “He likes the fame that comes with finding the foot in the smoker.”
Still, despite the antics, Finders Keepers reveals poignant undercurrents like Whisnant’s aspirations for fame and his long held class resentments (Woods family is comparatively well-off). And when Woods’ sister reflects that John held onto the leg because it represents his late father, it would be contrived were this not a documentary where she actually said the words. Instead, it’s touching.
Finders Keepers inspires raucous laughter and is a worthwhile expenditure of time and ticket cost on the strength of that alone. But Woods’ mother, herself a fascinatingly prickly lady worthy of a documentary herself, sums the film up nearly when she says, “It’s a funny story but it’s born of tragedy.”