I Am Directed by: Tom Shadyac Cast: Tom Shadyac, Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn Running Time: 1 hr 15 min Rating: Unrated Release Date: February 18, 2011
PLOT: After a life-changing bike accident, a successful Hollywood director (Shadyac) goes off in search of meaning.
WHO'S IT FOR? Anyone who reads spirituality books like those by the Dalai Lama.
EXPECTATIONS: I thought the trailer looked a little contrived, so I didn't have high hopes for the film.
ACTORS: Tom Shadyac as himself: Best known for directing films like Ace Ventura and The Nutty Professor, Shadyac was a successful man with a huge house and lavish lifestyle. Then he had the double whammy of a bicycle accident and a film flop (Evan Almighty, which grossed $100 million so it wasn't a HUGE disaster). How you feel about him will depend on your reaction to that story. A man with ridiculous amounts of money has an epiphany. My first reaction was, I wish I had that luxury.
However, over the course of the film, I did warm up to Shadyac. He's clearly excited by those he speaks to and seems to have a bit of a sense of humor about himself. But still, I'm not sure I'd want to hang out with him. It made the film's 75-minute length seem a little long. Score: 5
Desmond Tutu as himself: On the other hand, Tutu is a man easy to like. He comes off as both intelligent and humble in his interview. His faith in humanity is inspiring, especially after all the conflicts he has faced in his life. I don't know that he had the answers to the questions Shadyac was asking, but he improved my faith in humanity. Score: 8
Howard Zinn as himself: Zinn's appeared in films and on television many times and although he may never have been asked the specific questions that Shadyac is asking, you kind of know where he's going to go with it. Still, it's always interesting to hear his opinions. Score: 6
TALKING: The film has some excellent interviews with very interesting people. Besides those I've mentioned above, there are some scientists who offer interesting findings. However, sometimes the film seems to question itself. At the beginning, the narration talks about how science is fallible. Later in the film, scientists will explain how studies show that people are all interconnected. It left me wondering whether I should believe what they were saying. Is this a hint that I'm being conned? If so, this must be the most sophisticated documentary of the year. Score: 5
SIGHTS: The interviews look great, they must be shot on high quality cameras. The other video is mostly stock footage, which could have used some work. I felt like I was watching an overlong news story at times.
As someone who works with video, I had a further pet-peeve that there was no consistency to aspect ratio. Some video was standard sized footage that was stretched, others were the correct size with black bars on the side. But I don't think this will bother most people so I won't give it much weight. Score: 5
SOUNDS: I did not like the music, it was triumphant and a bit cloying. There's a particularly obnoxious moment where the "Hallelujah" chorus is played to highlight a joke and you realize where the comedic sensibilities of his other films came from. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: I did like the bit where Shadyac gets hooked to yogurt via electrodes. It's meant to illustrate something about how all life is connected, but it's also funny and honest.
ENDING: The film wants to sum everything up into this grand plan. But really it all comes down to "love thy neighbor". I think there was an easier way to make that point.
QUESTIONS: What's all this business about magnetic fields between people? I just wasn't sold on it. Why did it take so much for Shadyac to realize that living in a ridiculous house and spending so much money wasn't all there is in life?
REWATCHABILITY: There are certain sections I could watch again because I'd like to read a bit more and see if it makes more sense, like the science stuff. But no, I don't want to see the rest again.
I Am isn't the glorified pat on the back for Shadyac that I was expecting. He seems really excited about the information he uncovers and eager to help people. But his directorial style seems better suited to the comedies he's known for rather than documentary films. Though well-meaning, the film lacks the zing and immediacy of better documentaries. Shadyac is tackling big questions that don't really have simple answers and try as he might, he can't make it all come together with a bow at the end. Still, it's a decent effort.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10