Finding Joe: Film Review

A rudimentary but not uninteresting introduction to the basic theory behind much of the work of famed mythologist, writer and lecturer Joseph Campbell.

Twenty "visionaries" talk to the camera about Joseph Campbell's major findings in his life-long study of mythology and the human experience.

If you don’t mind being lectured to for 80 minutes, Patrick Takaya Solomon’s Finding Joe makes an excellent primer on the seminal teachings and discoveries of the late mythologist Joseph Campbell. Only a few old photos of the famed Sarah Lawrence professor appear on screen and the film contains not a single interview with him. Instead Solomon tracks down 20 “visionaries” to express Campbell’s major findings in his study of mythology.

These startlingly radiant, at times even joyous, faces expound about Campbell’s wisdom, often completing each other’s sentences. Much of this is drawn from Campbell’s seminal book, The Hero’s Journey, published in 1949.

The whole thing takes on the aspect of a self-help movie rather than a documentary though. These disciples peach the gospel of Joe and, one suspects, they’ll be preaching more or less to the choir in the film’s limited engagements that start in western states. (Does the filmmaker believe this is a “Left Coast” film?)

Solomon brings his interviewees in from several fields but labels many with vague terms such as “Best Selling Author” or “Philosopher/Entrepreneur.” It might have been helpful for a viewer know what books the person authored or what business he might have launched.

Some come from the show business such as Mike Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, film director Catherine Hardwicke, screenwriter/producer Akiva Goldman and actress-writer Rashida Jones.

Naturally, Deepak Chopra shows up along with professional skakeboarder Tony Hawk, surfing superstar Laird Hamilton and Robert Walter, president of the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

Everyone’s comments are thoughtful and articulate but everyone stays “on message” so steadfastly that no dialogue ever ensues. It’s 20 people giving the same lecture.

What you miss is any sense of the man himself or his long career that covered so many aspects of human knowledge and experience. But that’s not the film Solomon wants to make.

Generous movie clips from the Star Wars series to The Wizard of Oz help to illustrate Campbell’s theory about the Hero’s Journey, this being the foundation of all mythological storytelling. And nearly everyone seems to have benefited in his own life journey by adhering to Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss.”

Some concepts are enacted by a theatrical troupe of children with mixed results. Reducing Campbell’s theory about the hero and his “call to adventure” to a ringing telephone in a phone booth may be taking things a little too literally.

But then, you do suspect that Finding Joe is the result of the filmmaker’s own determination to follow his bliss.

Opens: Sept. 30 in Los Angeles. Oct. 14 San Francisco (Balcony Releasing)
Production companies: A Pat and Pat production
Director/screenwriter/producer: Patrick Takaya Solomon
Executive producer: Patricia Frazier
Consulting producer: Kate Churchill
Director of photography: Ezra Migel
Additional cinematography: Christopher Gallo, Matt Goodman, Shawn Hiatt, Tom Derry, Hector Mata
Music: Isaac Spirintis
Editor: Paul Forte
No rating, 80 minutes