HOT COFFEE Documentary DVD Review
HBO Documentary films has released on DVD, HOT COFFEE, a documentary that was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and received the Grand Jury Prize at the Seattle Film Festival. Hot Coffee revisits the infamous McDonald’s coffee spilling case, the results of the lawsuit, and the ramifications in the legal world and to other victims.
Everyone has heard of the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit. I remember it when it occurred. Yet, I was dismayed to discover in the first part of this film that everything I remembered was actually inaccurate. The case has become such an enigma that the misperceptions surrounding the story have become facts in many people’s minds, especially my own.
Unfortunately, for me, the first part of the film was really the only good part. In fact, the whole documentary only spent about 20 minutes discussing the McDonald’s case. The initial shock at learning the true facts behind the case had barely worn off before the movie changed and suddenly I was thrust in what I can only describe as a political discussion on the merits of lawsuits and “tort reform.” Although there was a definite tie in between the huge award from the McDonald’s case and the idea behind tort reform, the movie quickly lost my interest. There were brief blurbs of other cases, but I am not even sure what they were about because they were only touched upon and not developed.
The director has stated that she did not want to tell the viewers how to think, but to give them information to make an unbiased decision. However, the movie felt totally biased to me. What would have made it better? More focus on the actual cases and less talking heads about “tort reform”, cap on damages, and big bad companies.
Aside from the actual docmentary, the DVD also had some very brief bonus features including the following:
Interview With the Director – about 6 minutes long and is an interview with the director, Susan Saladoff, a former lawyer. This was the best feature as it gave background into Susan, why she made the film, how she made the film, and what she felt its purpose was.
Hot Coffee, Mississippi – about 2 minutes long and shows a very real town with the name Hot Coffee and briefly discusses the McDonald’s case with some citizens, but then abruptly stops.
Insurance Rates – one minute of information about how insurance rates are set. I am not sure that it was long enough to give any real information.
Take Action: What You Can Do – one minute suggestions about how the average viewer can get involved with the issues in the film.
Hot Coffee is not a bad film. However, it was not what I expected nor what I wanted. It felt very one sided despite Ms. Saladoff’s claims that she was trying to give all the information available. Ms. Saladoff was a trial attorney and the movie plays out somewhat like a trial, with Hot Coffee trying to sway the viewer to its side. Most documentaries have this problem, an idea that it wants to portray, a side it wants you to take, and it is definitely not worse in this case. If the issue of tort reform and high lawsuit awards are your thing, Hot Coffee is right up your alley. Otherwise, you are likely to be disappointed after your viewing.
Hot Coffee is available to purchase on DVD at Amazon.