Sunday, March 20, 2011

“I Am” – Movie Review




This past Wednesday night, the Spring Semester of my movie class began and we saw a documentary titled “I Am”, directed by Tom Shadyac, noted for directing such comedies as “Ace Ventura”, “The Nutty Professor” and “Bruce Almighty”. 




After a near – death experience, movie director Tom Shadyac’s recovery period forces him to reflect on life’s meaning and importance, as well as how we can all live a better, more meaningful and fulfilling life. 




A few years ago, Tom Shadyac – a successful Hollywood film director with many comedies to his credit – had a bad accident where he suffered a concussion.  As a result of this accident, he spent a considerable amount of time both in the hospital and later, in therapy, in order to try to recover from this injury.  During these long, torturous months, he had many opportunities to reflect on his life and its meaning – he questioned not only his own existence, but also, that of humanity in general.  This documentary was the result of his extensive introspection. 


During his recovery process, an unusual – but not entirely uncommon – thing occurred:  although his concussion had essentially healed, he once again started experiencing their symptoms.  In addition to this – or perhaps as a result of it – he began feeling depressed and suicidal.  Over time, these feelings eventually passed; however, while he had these feelings, he started questioning life – both his own and life in general.  He then decided that once he was better, he would make a documentary that asked – and hopefully answered – two very essential questions, namely:  What’s wrong with our world?  And What can we do about it?


In the course of making this documentary, he interviewed people from all walks of life, including such notables as Noam Chomsky and Desmond Tutu, seeking acceptable answers to his questions.   Ultimately, realizing that the expansive Beverly Hills mansion he purchased as a result of his show business success was not fulfilling him, he sold it and moved into an incredibly modest little cottage where he claims he is much happier. 




Let’s face it – all movies (and I do mean ALL) – are designed to manipulate our feelings:  Comedies try to make us laugh, horror films try to scare us, dramas/tragedies to make us feel sorrow, etc.  Documentaries, however, are different from those others because they are not fictional (at least, they’re not supposed to be), but they are nonetheless the same in the regard that they do try to manipulate us – specifically, they try to manipulate how we think or what we believe.  The filmmakers do this by positing certain “facts” which serve to support their own agenda and rarely offer any opposing views so that they may further buttress their belief system – this, for me at least, is where Shadyac’s “I Am” falls apart. 


Shadyac, with his extensive background as a comic filmmaker, tries to take an upbeat tone throughout most of the movie.  By its end, he tries to leave us with a hopeful, uplifting feeling.  However, much of the movie is so touchy-feely with a New Age philosophy to it that you feel as though you’ve got someone preaching their philosophy and/or religion to you to the point that it can be downright oppressive for anyone who suspects this might just be a lot of B.S. and therefore refuses to buy into all of it. 


Ultimately, this movie may be appealing to people who are at the very least spiritual and at the very most profoundly religious.  On the other hand, if you are neither one of these, then you might just find yourself squirming in your seat, as I did.  For me, Shadyac would have gained a lot of points in his filmmaking – and credibility as a documentarian – had he presented less sentimental viewpoints and offered people criticizing or questioning the ideas he espoused in his movie.  Instead, we are left with nothing more than some kind of Pollyanna pap that can’t be taken very seriously. 


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