'I Am Chris Farley': Film Review

I am Chris Farley Film Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Virgil Films

I am Chris Farley Film Still - H 2015

A loving and informative, if uneven, portrait

Friends and family praise the late comic dynamo.

A straightforward encomium about a performer who died too early, I Am Chris Farley offers an intimate look at the SNL star. Co-directors Brent Hodge and Derik Murray go exclusively to interviewees who lived or worked with the oversized, overenergized man, all of whom clearly loved him, and if the tone of their remarks (affectionate, amazed at his charisma) is totally predictable, the specifics have enough color to hold the interest of a casual fan. Theatrical prospects are limited, but on VOD it has healthy appeal.

An initial focus on brothers like Kevin Farley, who is seen here doing stand-up in Madison, Wisconsin, prompts the worry that this will be a kind of coattail-riding, first-person doc, but no. Family members are very helpful here, providing a picture of Farley's home life — in particular his laugh-loving salesman dad — that offers real insight into his comic persona. Classmates describe a kid who would do anything for a laugh: "He was always whipping out his dick," one says; unfortunately, using that organ for exercises in typing class was more than his Catholic school could tolerate.

Farley moved from small-town theaters to Chicago, where famed improv guru Del Close gave him the same advice he gave another student, John Belushi: "Attack the stage like a bull." Bob Odenkirk, who performed alongside him there, recalls thinking "I'm only gonna watch that guy if he's onstage." (Nobody in the film points out that having one actor absorb all the audience's attention mightn't always benefit a sketch.)

Farley was so unrestrained in the way he flung his substantial mass around, Mike Meyers says, that he accidentally knocked one performer's tooth out and gave another a scar. By the time he got to Saturday Night Live, though, it seems the only one he was hurting was himself. We hear all along about his massive appetite for alcohol (drugs are mentioned in only the vaguest way possible), and eventually of his 17 stints in rehab, but colleagues like David Spade and Lorne Michaels are understandably more inclined to focus on his gifts. All seem genuine in their praise, but viewers who walk in feeling that Farley's bag of tricks was rather limited (however hilarious those tricks could be) may not have their minds changed.

The filmmakers' use of performance clips isn't the smartest: We could use meatier looks at early performances in Chicago, no matter how bad the VHS quality; on SNL, an extended look at the debut of his "down by the river" routine is welcome, but paying similar attention to a lousy fashion-designer sketch just reminds us how hit-or-miss even the show's most popular cast members were at that time. Tech-wise, the doc only really stumbles with a score so distractingly generic that the credits don't even list its composer.

Production company: Network Entertainment

Directors: Brent Hodge, Derik Murray

Screenwriter: Steve Burgess

Producer: Derik Murray

Executive producers: Kevin P. Farley, Tim Gamble, Paul Gertz, Kevin Kay, Jaimee Kosanke, Robert Pirooz, David Reeder, Jon Slusser, Kent Wingerak

Directors of photography: Shaun Lawless, Geoff Wallace

Editors: JR Mackie, Brent Hodge

No rating, 94 minutes