In the doc I Am Another You, director Nanfu Wang follows Dylan Olsen, a 22-year-old homeless guy who's bright, friendly, and charismatic. There's much more to him than meets the eye, though. Wang decides that the best way to capture Olsen's day-to-day life is to become homeless herself and tag along with him. He only eats one meal a day and chats with strangers, one of whom agrees to let him crash at his place temporarily. How did he end up in this particular lifestyle off the beaten path? Why has he chosen such a lifestyle? What's wrong with him mentally and psychologically? Wang finds answers to the first two questions, but the issue of his mental and psychological health turns out to be much more complicated. She tracks down Olsen's father who helps to reveal a lot about his beloved son, even though those memories are quite painful. The footage she captures of Olsen, some of which is shot by Olsen himself, is heartbreaking and gripping. She focuses almost entirely on Olsen with a few brief glimpses of other homeless people who also appear to have mental issues. Kudos to Wang for humanizing her subject without judging him. However, the doc does become repetitive past the hour mark and even somewhat voyeuristic---do we really have to watch Olsen's family reacting to the footage of Olsen's homelessness for so long? Moreover, the ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered about Olsen's future and what can be done about how our society and/or government has neglected the mentally ill. It would have been more insightful if Wang were to have broadened the film's scope by interviewing public health officials who or at least provided some sort of possible solutions that could tackle Olsen's problems that led him to homelessness. At a running time of 1 hour and 20 minutes, I Am Another You, a title chosen by Olsen himself, opens Wednesday, September 27th at Quad Cinema via FilmRise.
Tristan Blake (Emmett Hughes), an Irish
actor is now sober after struggling with drug addiction. He's supposed to be driving to his
first day on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster in Los Angeles, but instead he decides to skip
it because he has other plans. His publicist isn't too happy about that decision, and neither
is the film's director. It's no help that his former shrink (Paget Brewster) breaches the
patient-doctor confidentiality by exposing private info about him. Meanwhile, his father (voice
of Ciarán Hinds) is in a nursing home and suffering from dementia. The longer that Tristan
drives, the more he has to emotionally grapple with his troubled past. Where will he drive to
instead of going to work? Has he permanently destroyed his chances of becoming a big star in Hollywood?
Do you remember the good 'ole American indie from the 80's and 90's that were shot on an very low budget, well-written, inspired, unforgettable, and had a lot of passion that went into it? Axis feels like that kind of rare movie. Even the title card which swivels around an axis is quite clever and gives a hint about the title's significance. The screenplay by Emmett Hughes is deceptively simple and lean: it takes place entirely inside Tristan's car as the supporting characters call him as he's driving. Hughes blends razor-sharp satire, drama and tragedy with just the right amount of comic relief and wit while avoiding preachiness, unevenness and schmaltz. He explores themes of loneliness, grief, anger, frustration and the shallow, dehumanizing industry of Hollywood. A less organic screenplay would have turned the film into a clunky, pretentious mess or into a tedious, monotonous, lethargic experience, so it's a testament to Hughes' skills as a writer that it never veers into any of those territories.
Emmett Hughes gives a breakthrough performance as Tristan. Director Aisha Tyler is very wise and lucky to have chosen him as her lead because almost the entire emotional burden of the film rests on his skills as an actor. Fortunately, he's charismatic, convincingly moving, and manages to find the emotional truth of his role. He also handles the moments of comic relief quite well which is no easy task. Part of what also allows the film to breathe, so-to-speak, besides that comic relief is the well-chosen music that compliments the film without being heavy-handed or distracting. Moreover, Tyler alternates between three cameras including some mesmerizing shots from right outside of the car as the scenery in the background get reflected onto the window. The ending, which won't be spoiled here, is quite shocking and haunting.
Axis is one of the best satires of Hollywood since The Player and What Just Happened. It would make for an interesting double feature with Puzzle of a Downfall Child, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, and Sunset Boulevard. Aisha Tyler deserves a nomination for Best Debut Director.