"Startup.com" (IMDb listing) shows us the struggles and frustrations of two men trying to launch a Web site during the tech "gold rush" of the last three years. This documentary couldn't be better timed, as tales of Dot Com woe litter the news channels daily. To have an insider look at this type of industry is a rarity, and "Startup.com" is a genuinely entertaining ride.
Kaliel Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman were two childhood friends with a "dream" of bringing municipal government to your home computer. Long waits to pay parking tickets and taxes would be erased at govworks.com, as you could pay your fines right in your own home. Bordering on pure greed, Kaliel and Tom's ambitions to form a billion-dollar company are thwarted by backstabbing, a serious lack of business ethics, and good old-fashioned bad timing.
It's rare to find the type of intimacy with the principals of a documentary as you find in "Startup.com." Directors Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim are privy to many private and deeply passionate scenes. So much internal struggle is revealed in "Startup.com" that when the filmmakers skip over some of the details of this journey, their presence is missed. A mid-movie office break-in is heavily covered, with Kaliel even going so far to suggest the robbery was a bit of corporate espionage. It is soon quickly forgotten. Tom also has a child that is heavily featured yet never properly introduced. It would've been nice to understand how this wannabe-empire builder suddenly became a father. "Startup.com" wants the audience to get into the heads of the participants, yet it never permits time for these substantial details. We are allowed to witness so much, yet coming out of "Startup.com," I couldn't help but ponder relentlessly what I wasn't allowed to see.
Shot in digital video (DV), "Startup.com" relies on close-upsextreme close-upsto find the emotions seeded deep within the wooden personalities of Kaliel and Tom. In unforgiving DV terms, this means staring at nose pores for 100 minutes. I'm not a fan of DV and "Startup.com" loses valuable credibility in choosing this format to capture all the drama. Besides muddy fleshtones and repellent visuals, the DV cameras cannot capture a crucial event in the film. A very important letter is opened and shown to the camera. While the contents of said letter are obvious to the audience, the words are impossible to read due to the severe pan blur caused by the DV camera. DV cameras might capture unbelievable intimacy, but it sacrifices style in the process.
In the end, Kaliel comes off as an arrogant, womanizing, self-servicing jerk. And Tom? I seriously question why this emotional man is even in the world of cutthroat business. "Startup.com" offers more questions than answers when it comes to delivering defining outlines of these two men, yet it offers some fun in imagining that this story was happening to all of my beloved failed Dot Coms.
"Startup.com" is a fascinating look into the heart of financial aspirations and the disappointments of "real world" reality.
Filmfodder Grade: B