Making a documentary isn’t easy. Sure, they’re based on real stories that have already been told, but documentaries comes to life through a proper balance of investigative due diligence and engaging emotionality. For example – Asif Kapadia’s Amy succeeds not only because it chronicles the rise and fall of a poor, wayward musician, but because it’s an emotional powerhouse that never shies away from Winehouse’s dark, unsettling past. Kapadia connects the dots, exposes tragedy, and drags our emotions through Hell along the way.
Much like Winehouse, Chris Farley’s gargantuan talents left this world far too soon thanks to the perils of substance abuse. His story is one of humble beginnings, skyrocketing success, and excessive partying, making me think I Am Chris Farley could be on par with Amy‘s tumultuous ride. Spoiler Alter: it’s not. But that’s not a bad thing! Brent Hodge and Derik Murray have created a worthwhile candle to be burned in the name of Chris Farley, and through heartfelt fan-servicing, they offer enough charming family tidbits and early-years coverage to ensure an insightful watch.
I Am Chris Farley tends to highlight the childish innocence of the portly comedian’s lovable side, which is reiterated over and over again by family, friends, and coworkers alike. Everyone knows how Farley became a smoldering star on SNL by creating characters like motivational speaker Matt Foley or his bratwurst-sucking Chicagoan, but we’re offered a whole slew of new behind-the-scenes anecdotes from each famous talking head. For instance, David Spade reminisces about how Farley once chugged a whole Coke in front of Glenn Close to try and impress her, because that’s the sweet buffoon he was. A simple Wisconsin goof with the soul of an immensely talented class clown.
Everyone adored Farley, from friends who were stunned by his generous nature, to women who found comfort in his gentlemanly demeanor. The praise for Chris’ stand-up nature can be summed up by his wishes for fame. He didn’t want the fancy cars or gaudy mansions. In his own words, Farley just wanted to walk into a children’s hospital and put a smile on the whole room based on status alone. This is also the same man who would whip his dick out on a dare, just for a quick laugh, but don’t let his immaturity fool you – almost every single interviewee uses the word “pure” at some point, because that’s the best way to describe him. A pure, gentle man who would never hurt a fly. Except himself.
The documentary has a choice to make when it reaches Chris’ deadly habits. Hodge and Murray can expose all the drunken humility, tortured emotions, and abusive habits for the death sentence they became, but neither filmmaker embraces that route. Whenever someone like Tom Arnold or Bob Odenkirk start to veer towards Farley’s after-work habits, the conversation quickly cuts to another celebrity who begins their own more joyful train of thought. There’s never a desire to dig up the more unfortunate side of Chris Farley – the side many of us DIDN’T see – and while it’s a respectable decision, it also cheapens the documentary to a small degree. There’s more to the Farley story than this sentimental remembrance lets on, yet the audience is shielded from such sadness time and time again.
This focus is also a humbling one, because it gives Farley’s closest friends a chance to let their emotions fly without interruption. I Am Chris Farley doesn’t need candid photos of the performer’s less-proud moments to sully our sweet memories of his incomparable physical comedy. Farley’s dedication and commitment will probably never be duplicated, which makes us appreciate the time we had with him even more. From his time at The Second City to his domination of Saturday Night Live, everyone has a wonderful Farley story to tell, and this intimate format lets each blast of praise be heard.
Some documentary filmmakers rely on shocking imagery to get a reaction from audiences, while others simply remain in the moment. I Am Chris Farley may be a little more upbeat than you’d expect, but it’s still powerful enough to make a hardened veteran like Bob Saget shed a few tears on camera. Some might find it slight, with a little more “fluff” than expected, but not every true story has to be a downer. I Am Chris Farley is more a celebration of life than an examination of death, because Chris only wanted to bring joy into this world for as long as he could. And he deserved at least one more opportunity to do so.
I Am Chris Farley may avoid some of the comedian's darker moments, but it lets Chris bring joy into our lives at least one more time, and that's all he ever wanted to do.