Imagine a group of old friends reuniting after fifteen years to reminisce about the old times, in particular a shared friend they lost long ago. This is what I Am Chris Farley ultimately comes off as. It is understandably hard to talk about a loved one who died so far before their time, so regardless of how truly bleak the dark times were, they could only be remembered lightly. Directors Brent Hodge (A Brony Tale) and Derik Murray (I Am Evel Knievel) both have some experience recounting lives and life stories, but documentaries need to provide a new depth beyond what is already public knowledge. The film comes off as a loving tribute and highlights reel to great comedian Chris Farley.
We glimpse into his childhood with the help of his brother Kevin. Chris understood the mechanics of humor from childhood, even if he couldn’t define them. He knew what he had to do to get a laugh from most people, even if it meant taking on real damage to do it. The term “stage fall” meant nothing to Chris Farley, sometimes truly suffering for his art. That is one of many reasons his humor seemed genuine–every joke and every gag came from a real place. The documentary makes you wonder if his humor wasn’t actually a gateway drug, leading him to more self-infliction for the sake of his art and humor. We never dive into these deep-seated issues behind his descent into addiction, but are instead just led to believe that this is a usual case of stardom being thrust on someone too fast and too soon.
Through interviews with friends like David Spade, Adam Sandler, and even Lorne Michaels, we are told how effortlessly funny he was, but how he was constantly battling with some deeper turmoil. Then, through the perspective of acquaintances and people who had a limited interaction with Farley, like Christina Applegate and Dan Aykroyd, we understand what a kind-hearted person and how down-to-earth he was even at the peak of his career. It gets to a point that every person has to acknowledge, briefly, Farley’s substance problem. You can see the sadness in his friends’ eyes, painfully reminiscing, but stepping around many specific details as if they were emotional landmines.
I Am Chris Farley has an unspoken and not fully acknowledged darkness that remains in the outskirts of the film from its beginning. It lies heavy in the air, like an obsidian elephant in the room that can only be talked about in vague terms, but never fully addressed. Going into this film, we know already broadly how Chris Farley died. Unfortunately, we don’t find out too much more about Farley’s self-destructive downfall that we didn’t already know. He was constantly in rehab and had several substance abuse problems, going through the cycle of binging and rehab like it was one of his routines. You can tell that his friends wish they had each done more to help him, and that is perhaps why many tip-toed around the topic.
The biggest miss in this film is not even speculating on the true cause of his addictive personality, but instead just chalking it up to a typical Hollywood disease. They made no mention of it, but you get a sense of a deeper, unexplored issue in Farley’s life that felt very “tears of a clown” in nature. We may never know, but either way, Chris Farley serves as a beacon and cautionary tale for a lifestyle that has claimed more victims than it should. With great documentaries on talented people who died before their prime (like Amy or Montage of Heck), I Am Chris Farley joins their ranks, offering a euphemized version of his life rather than a dwelling on his death.
RATING: ★★★★★★ (6/10 stars)
IN THEATERS IN LA & NY. ON VOD August 11th.