Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Am Chris Farley

2.5/4

Not Rated (probable R for Some Language)

When I was in college, I was browsing the bookstore one day when I came across a copy of "The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts."  Knowing little about him outside of "Tommy Boy" and the fact that he had died years before, I picked it up and paged through it.  Done primarily through quotes from his friends and family members, it was a surprisingly quick read (that said, I at first paged through it rather than read it from cover to cover, which I eventually did).  It was a genuinely moving and affecting experience.

It would be too much to ask for a film to duplicate that in 90 minutes.  Chris was to complex an individual for a standard-order biopic.  His psychological complexities were fascinating to probe.  By the same token, he was a complicated individual and a tremendously simple one.  It's impossible not to identify with him.  After reading the book and watching "Tommy Boy" again, I saw him in a new light.  I understood what made him so special.

Anyone who has seen "Tommy Boy" or any of his sketches (especially the "Motivational Speaker" ones) can attest to his talent.  What one will understand after seeing this movie is that it was as much a curse.  He was so successful at what he did that he used it to deflect attention from anything that was painful.  And as a perfectionist who was beset by insecurity, he had his demons.  Chris was also incredibly na├»ve, and when you're in a field as cut-throat and savage as show business, that can be an extreme liability.

The film does a good job of giving a rundown of Chris's all-too-short 33 years on this Earth and it has the virtue of being effectively presented.  But it is obvious that much was left out.  It's not hero-worship, but much of the darkness and pain that compromised Chris's personality has been smoothed over.  Or left out.

The unforgivable sin relates to Chris's relationship with his father, which is almost completely ignored.  For someone who had such a huge impact on his life (at times positive, but ultimately negative), this is a gross oversight.  Tom Farley Sr. loved his children (Chris especially), but he was very much an old-fashioned individual.  Very black and white, very reserved in showing praise.  More importantly, both of them were alcoholics and had extreme eating disorders, and both men's problems fed each other's.  However, no matter how much Chris's addictions were destroying them, Tom refused to even acknowledge them, for doing so, as one person in the book said, would mean acknowledging his own addiction.  For example, after one particularly destructive binge, Tom told his brothers to bring Chris home to "deal" with the problem.  But at the gate, he just beamed and asked if Chris's blazer was new.  Tom's advice about the movie business also hurt Chris.  At one point, he was offered millions to do "Beverly Hills Ninja," a movie that he had originally turned down.  But once his father heard of the salary, he told him to do it, and whatever Tom said, to Chris it was law.

Probably the best way to summarize the impact that their relationship had on Chris is a quote from Chris's brother, Tom Jr.: "Even though our dad was incredibly proud of Chris's career, Chris always suspected that what Dad really wanted was for him to settle down with a wife and kids.  It's like, no matter how successful you are, until you show that you can raise a good family you haven't really proved yourself.  That was the struggle that Chris always went through, wanting to be a family guy like Dad was and yet wanting the success in his acting life, too.  But very few people can make it work on both ends successfully.  If Dad had a choice, he would have been running for Congress or making deals on Wall Street with all his Georgetown buddies.  He'd given that up.  But Chris could never be content with his professional success, because he was living by Dad's barometer and not his own."

To be fair, the filmmakers do touch upon this, but not nearly enough.  The father-son part of his life and personality was too important to leave out.  You can't talk about Chris with talking about his relationship with his father.

For those who are interested, it's not a bad way to spend 90 minutes.  But it skips over far too much for me to recommend it outright.  Read the book instead.  Only then will you get a real sense of who Chris was.

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