'I Hate Myself :)': Film Review

Courtesy of Joanna Arnow
The feeling proves contagious.

Joanna Arnow's autobiographical documentary examines her yearlong relationship with her boorish boyfriend.

The smiley face added to the provocative title of Joanna Arnow’s autobiographical documentary provides a clue that her film is more likely an elaborate put-on than a confessional self-examination. One certainly hopes so, because I Hate Myself :) centers on two thoroughly repellent, self-absorbed figures with whom spending time proves a nearly intolerable trial. Hailed by some critics as honest and uncompromising, the film mainly feels utterly self-indulgent.

The doc focuses on the yearlong relationship between Arnow and her boyfriend (I’m using the term loosely) James, a Texas-born, clearly alcoholic “performance artist” whose rantings at open mic nights in his Harlem neighborhood include racial epithets that seem deeply felt. To say that he’s boorish and obnoxious would be an understatement, as evidenced by his reaction when Arnow protests at his addressing her with the word “babe.”

“Why don’t you want to be called babe?” he asks with a smirk. “Someone rape you?” Later, as the relationship deteriorates, he openly mocks her when she gets emotional. But, confessing to feeling “horny,” he initiates sex anyway, which is presented in a graphic, unfaked scene that would make Lena Dunham blush.

The self-reflexive film also shows Arnow’s interactions with her pudgy, hairy editor, Max. His appearance would be beside the point, except for the fact that he conducts all his dealings with her, and presumably with everyone else, in the nude.

Arnow’s parents, who seem like normal, rational people, are naturally upset by their daughter’s cinematic approach. “Do you see Michael Moore making a film about his personal life?” her mother asks, quite reasonably. As they sit in horror watching footage from the documentary-in-progress, the mother, unconsciously filling the role of film critic, asks, “How many more minutes is it? It’s very difficult to watch this!” When Arnow warns her parents that they’re about to see a graphic sex scene featuring their daughter, they quickly leave the room (alas, not an option afforded this viewer). Before he storms out, the father, bless him, huffs, “I think you’re out of your mind!”

Perhaps, or perhaps not. How much of the extremely uncomfortable proceedings is truth and how much is manufactured is a question that inevitably springs to mind. But the more pertinent query, really, is who cares?

Director-director of photography: Joanna Arnow
Executive producers: Suki Hawley, Michael Galinsky
Editors: Max Karson, Joanna Arnow

56 minutes

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