Sunday, August 23, 2015

Video review: "I Am Chris Farley"

If you looked at the average lifespan of “Saturday Night Live” alumni compared to the general population, you'd find it’s shockingly low. So many talented comedic fireballs have gone to early graves -- some to disease (Gilda Radner) or violence (Phil Hartman), but far too many to excessive lifestyles and a lack of self-control.

Anyone watching the show in the 1990s initially viewed Chris Farley as the reincarnation of John Belushi: a maniacal tubby guy with a natural grace for physical comedy that belied his girth. “I Am Chris Farley” is the new documentary about his life, where he came from, why he was so popular on the show -- and why he was incapable of doing anything halfway.

Directors Brent Hodge and Derik Murray interview an impressive list of people who knew or worked with Farley, tracing his rise from class cut-up in a bucolic Wisconsin town to king of the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago up through the seemingly ordained call-up to SNL. We learn that he was a man who would literally do anything for a laugh, even being suspended from his Catholic school for exposing himself during typing class.

People like Adam Sandler, Dan Aykroyd, David Spade, Bob Saget, Mike Myers, Christina Applegate, SNL chief Lorne Michaels and many others weigh in with memories, regrets and praise. Farley’s brothers and childhood friends speak of a soul so innocent and pure that there was simply no nastiness in him. His inability to cope with alcohol and drugs was, they say, simply an extension of a man whose appetite for joy was unquenchable.

Myself, I was never a particular fan of Farley’s. He seemed to operate under the principle of “comedy by volume” -- that is, any line of dialogue becomes funny if you shout it loudly and repeatedly. The half-life he could wring out of material was regrettably brief; no doubt the reason his two films in a starring role both bombed as audiences couldn’t summon the endurance for 90 minutes of Farley’s pratfalls and mugging.

His act got old fast, and so did Farley. His death at age 33 of an overdose, compounded by his obesity, came as a shock to exactly no one, his friends say.

Still, if Farley’s brand of merriment wasn’t my bag, I appreciated the devotion he put into his craft. As this doc underlines, no one put more effort into looking like a screw-up.

It’s an insightful, affecting portrait of a misunderstood comedy giant who left us too soon.

As a straight-to-video release that’s also being shown on the Spike TV channel, there are no bonus materials.



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