By Chase Whale | July 22, 2015
Directors: Brent Hodge, Derik Murray
“Everybody cries through this, right?” — Bob Saget
I wish I Am Chris Farley had 60 intermissions so I could have enough time to dry my eyes before the next sequence of photos, videos or interviews started. It’s a rigorous, emotional watch, but also a tender and sterling tribute to a man who was once one of the funniest people on the planet.
Watching I Am Chris Farley was hard enough, but writing about it is equally painful because I find myself having to navigate through notes and replay the film over and over in my head, contemplating the structure of the documentary, as well as Farley’s good times and his last. It’s truly an honor to be able to write about him, but I wish this review was about Farley’s latest film, not a documentary on his legacy and untimely death.
That said, please excuse this scatter-brained review. All I want to do is talk about Farley and his swift ability to make people laugh. I don’t need a documentary to tell me he was good at that; I followed his whole career. But, a documentary was made, so it’s my duty to watch it and tell you what I think, especially if you’ve made it to this third paragraph. Here we go…
Brent Hodge and Derik Murray’s I Am Chris Farley explores the life of the late comedian through the memories of his mother, brothers John, Tom, Matt and Kevin (who bears an uncanny resemblance), old friends, as well as some of the SNL guests and alumni during Farley’s time on the show: Molly Shannon, Mike Myers, Tom Arnold, Jon Lovitz Dan Aykroyd, Bob Saget, Jay Mohr, Bob Odenkirk, Christina Applegate (who was in Farley’s most legendary SNL sketch “Down By The River”), Adam Sandler, SNL creator Lorne Michaels, and someone he eventually built a budding relationship with, David Spade. (There are a few more but these are the ones that stood out to me.) The film is put together in very straight-forward manner: showing clips of his best work and the funniest moments on talk shows (most notably his appearance on David Letterman), video and photos of him throughout his youth and life before and when fame didn’t just come knocking on his door but kicked it in, all while the aforementioned people discuss their favorite stories about him and how looney and farce his comedy would go just to get a laugh out of those around him.
Farley became really close with a large chunk of his colleagues. Some may have been considered an acquaintance, but they all loved him just the same. He had that natural charisma, making it impossible to hate him, a rare quality in Hollywood. When talking about Farley, the words “hilarious,” “gentleman,” “kind,” and “innocent” are often used when describing him.
As a documentary, I Am Chris Farley doesn’t have the aesthetics of other docs on beloved celebrities who are no longer with us, like, say American: The Bill Hicks Story, but it gets the job done. It made me cry, sometimes quite loudly. (My lips bled from biting them while trying to lock my mouth shut and not let out more howls.) More importantly, it made me realize how large of an impact he left on the entertainment industry, not just the comedy scene.
What kind of bothers me about this film is the team behind it. They did a really exceptional job putting it together, but after learning of the other films Network Entertainment is responsible for — I Am Bruce Lee, I Am Steve McQueen, I Am Evel Knievel, and the upcoming I Am Johnny Cash — I can’t help but think they’re not really invested in their subjects, just spitting them out of an assembly line and moving on to the next famous deceased celebrity. It feels like they are not truly passionate about their subjects, just the money they are going to make because there’s already an established audience for these acclaimed personalities. It’s a huge turn off and I hope I am wrong. I want to be wrong.
To more important matters…
Farley had the natural ability to make anyone laugh. His fierce, energetic comedy made it seem easy. He was raw, charismatic, a rare breed hard to keep up with during skits — as Sandler and Spade admit in the documentary with dry, red eyes, clearly indicating they have been tearing up just like everybody else in the film. Farley took no prisoners during his time on SNL. In almost all of his legendary sketches on SNL, there was at least one person shown who couldn’t hold their laughter in or looked like they were about to burst in hysterics. He was that good.
Farley’s comedy was big, bold, and audacious; but once the fame hit, he got hampered down and didn’t know when it was okay to just be normal. On the outside, Farley was always in “fun mode” because he felt like he had to be funny 24/7. It eventually wore him down and he grew tired of being the fat guy who makes an ass of himself for a laugh. That’s what he was best known for and it started to haunt him. He loved the spotlight but when he was finally enveloped in it, he couldn’t handle it. Booze and drugs were the outlet that helped him cope, much to the trepidation of all of the people around him.
I Am Chris Farley admirably shows that Chris Farley was a lot of things: hilarious, energetic, kind, innocent, a gentleman, polite, afraid, alone, an alcoholic, a drug addict, fragile, and above all — human. His sudden death was a torturous shock and a gut-wrenching reminder that even the best of the best battle demons. He left us way too soon but his energetic spirit will forever live through the movies he made, the skits he did, and the stories told by those close to him.
One thing is for certain, once my time is up and I’m on the other side, the first thing I’m going to do is go looking for that van down by the river.