Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2016. A&E IndieFilms, Motto Pictures, Roger Ross Williams Productions. Based on the book by Ron Suskind. Cinematography by Tom Bergmann. Produced by Julie Goldman, Roger Ross Williams. Music by T. Griffin, Dylan Stark. Film Editing by David Teague. Academy Awards 2016. National Board of Review Awards 2016. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2016.
Owen Suskind was diagnosed with autism as a small child, his parents given little hope that their son would develop reasonably successful communication skills in his adult life. Disheartened but unwilling to give up, the Suskinds happily came upon a magnificent discovery during Owen’s childhood: he loved Disney movies and responded to them in direct and overt ways, films like Dumbo and Peter Pan the keys to his growing up to become a successfully mature young man who, at the point that this documentary is being made, is poised upon the frightening prospect of independent adulthood. He has a girlfriend, he gets a job and is ready to leave the nest, while at the centre of his activity are the characters from his favourite animated films that are the window into his world (his favourite being Iago from Aladdin, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried who makes a welcome appearance here). It’s an inspiring and heartfelt story but it’s also a documentary that seems far too satisfied to capture random moments and not really delve into the grittier details. The animation created for the film is only haphazardly included and the Disney segments feel peripheral to the life of someone for whom they have been so important, while more detail about Owen’s history learning to connect to the world through these movies would have provided more insight. From a strictly human point of view, it’s wonderful that this young man has had a loving (and thankfully financially lucrative) family background, but the film has much more to offer fans of Ron Suskind’s book about his son than anyone else.