'The Soul of Success: The Jack Canfield Story': Film Review

Courtesy of Indie Rights
A puff piece on a generic-seeming self-help mogul.
12/15/2017

Nick Nanton introduces one of the men behind the 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' empire.

A cheerleading portrait of the co-creator of the blockbuster Chicken Soup for the Soul self-help books, Nick Nanton's The Soul of Success: The Jack Canfield Story presents its subject as a selfless man who lives to inspire others. Light biography is paired with clips of public appearances and copious testimonials, all leaving the viewer with the notion that a bit of positive thinking can turn any life around. Given how successful Canfield is in selling tickets to daylong seminars, there seems to be some audience for the documentary's niche theatrical release.

According to IMDb, Nanton and screenwriter Emily Hache have turned out no fewer than five docs this year on inspirational themes. With titles like Game Changer, Maximum Achievement and Live Your Quest, prospective viewers will understand they're not in for exposés or critical assessments. So it is with Soul of Success, which finds nothing amiss in the life or work of its subject. Skeptical viewers will need to do their own Googling to find out about the wives and children Canfield left as he pursued his career, and ask themselves how that squares with their own notions of "success."

Affable in a Rotary Club sort of way, Canfield claims that, having been raised by a stepdad who failed in business, he "grew up thinking rich people were bad." It's unclear how and when that changed, but early in life he found mentors like William Clement Stone, who made millions on self-help books. Soon Canfield, who briefly taught high school, had co-authored 100 Ways to Enhance Self-Concept in the Classroom and was being hired for educational speaking gigs.

Nanton devotes a good deal of time to the relationship between Canfield and the woman who helped build his speaking business into an empire, his company's president Patty Aubery. He then tells the story everyone came to hear — how a little compilation of you-can-do-it stories endured 144 rejections, was picked up by a publisher nobody had heard of, and became so successful that, for a time, the printing presses couldn't keep up with demand.

Scattered in between the bits of history are plaudits from many other motivational speakers. But where similar docs like Joe Berlinger's Tony Robbins portrait I Am Not Your Guru work to convey the actual experience had by seminar attendees — who frequently feel their lives are changed by a speaker's insights and encouragement — Soul of Success does little to capture the eureka moments Canfield evidently produces for his followers. Maybe the doc is worried about giving the goods away for free.

Production company: DNA Films
Distributor: Indie Rights
Director: Nick Nanton
Screenwriter: Emily Hache
Producers: Alan Bonner, Ronald Fossum Jr, et al
Executive producers: John Bretthauer, J.W. Dicks, et al
Director of photography: Carlo Alberto Orecchia
Editor: Nick Ruff

54 minutes