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A film that loves its subject so much it forgets to look at its flaws
Chris Farley was an actor who threw himself into every role he did, not so much making a convincing character from nothing, but being so brazenly out of control and limitless that, by the end of the film or the respective Saturday Night Live sketch, you practically had to believe he was the real deal. His natural presence for comedy and trying to find the right moments to be completely ribald and pleasantly sentimental signifies him as one of the most talented comedy actors in years, and ever since I was young, I couldn't help but think what kind of path he would've made for himself had he not died so young.
I Am Chris Farley, a ninety-four minute documentary that will air on SpikeTV throughout the month of August and see a subsequent release on DVD and Blu-Ray, is a blatant love-letter to the comedian, and it's the kind of love-letter that really exhausts itself to show you everything there is to love about its subject. That's the film's greatest strength and its most notable weakness because, while we get to see every angle of Farley's comic abilities explored, depressingly little time is spent developing the very real drug and alcohol problems he battled throughout his life, which eventually caused his untimely death in 1997.
Farley grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, the middle child of three rambunctious brothers, encouraged by a father who loved to see their comic spirits run wild. Kevin Farley, who is a spitting image of his younger brother, recalls Chris constantly battling for the most attention from everyone in his family and often deservedly getting it for being so captivating and uncontrollable. Chris was a person who loved to run in groups, joining football and rugby during his school days, and routinely accepting dares and attempting to impress everyone around him simply because of his desire to be seen. He competed for attention; something that would undoubtedly earn him a spotlight at acclaimed venues such as Chicago's Second City and, eventually, Saturday Night Live, where, even through numerous film deals, he saw his home and the ultimate goal of his career.
Directors Brett Hodge and Derik Murray work to juxtapose film and sketch clips over the course of Farley's career with footage of his colleagues such as Adam Sandler, David Spade, Tom Arnold, Bo Derek, and Bob Saget speaking about their late friend and costar. The result is a familiar but effective structure thanks to how well the selected film clips mesh with Farley's personal life. Furthermore, a great deal of time is spent discussing Farley's comic talent and what made him so charismatic. Saget states that Farley had a "not give a s*** pride," which allowed him to be as raucous as he wanted; that meant taking off his shirt, dancing crazily all over a set, screaming and yelling to create a convincing, hyperactive character, and falling on the ground - without putting his arms out or creating a cushion - authentically. Anything he could do to add to the flavor and the zaniness of a sketch, he would and he would constantly make it work.
Few conversations on a professional or personal level concerning Chris Farley remain entirely positive, given his later years and his tragic death, which is why it's frustrating to see I Am Chris Farley so nonchalantly gloss over the effects and the circumstances leading up to and resulting in his death. I don't ever recall the word "cocaine," the drug that eventually killed Farley, being said in the film, nor any recollections from the interviewees when they found out about Farley's death. It's no doubt that everyone in this film has a strong love and respect for the late comic (by the end of the film, we almost want to throw our hands in front of ourselves and say, "we believe you"), but there's a disconcerting factor of being so in love with the subject that talking bad about a certain aspect or feature is a no-no here.
This makes I Am Chris Farley somewhat of a more sentimental documentary than one willing to explore how insecurities in the comedy world effect a person, especially for Farley, whose image was largely made up of a bumbling fat guy with little coordination and self-esteem. Although all of the footage here is rich and the documentary is nicely structured, there's something unfortunate about one half of the subject being covered with specifics and the other half, arguably just as important, being whitewashed almost entirely in generalities.
Nonetheless, I Am Chris Farley is a celebration at heart; a celebration of a life lost too soon and a comic actor that left as big of a footprint on the genre as he was himself. He was a personality film, the entertainment world, and comedy was sincerely lucky to have.
Directed by: Brent Hodge and Derik Murray.
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