Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 2020. Big Mouth Productions. Screenplay by Nels Bangerter, Kirsten Johnson. Cinematography by John Foster. Produced by Katy Chevigny, Kirsten Johnson, Marilyn Ness. Music by Doug Bernheim. Production Design by Nathan Fisher, Markus Kirschner. Costume Design by William Mellette. Film Editing by Nels Bangerter.
Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson reacts to devastating news in her family by turning her camera on her personal life and preparing herself for grief through a curious and creative exercise. Her father, Dick Johnson, is a now-retired successful clinical psychiatrist who has learned that he has dementia and she, who has always loved her father for his generosity and goodness, is unable to imagine a world without him. Knowing that the nature of his illness means that she is going to lose him before actually fully losing him, Kirsten attempts to soften the blow of her impending loss by putting her and her dad through a very creative exercise. Using her own resources series as a filmmaker, she makes a series of funny, elaborate and increasingly curious little films of the various ways that Dick could possibly die before he does so in real life, using makeup effects and stunt doubles to show him getting knocked out on the sidewalk, crushed by a falling air conditioner and even places him in visionary fantasies about the after life in which he performs the shock and amazement of the wonders he sees. Throughout these various efforts, she narrates the tale of his life, interviewing him about his marriage to her mother, his work and his own personal woes including the insecurity about his body that dogged him his whole life (he was born without toes on his feet) and that have provoked other aspects of his personality and ambition. Kirsten’s effort to mitigate the grief that surely will come sounds like a macabre way to deal with the inevitable, but it comes off as something mentally beneficial and humorous. Grief is an emotion that is often very isolating, and encouraging a shared perspective on it between the soon-to-be deceased and the mourners-to-be could be very helpful for those left behind who need a reason to let go. Johnson Sr makes for a very entertaining subject and is a natural on camera, imagine a friendlier Orson Bean, and it’s hard not to be touched by the generosity he and his daughter show in undertaking this crafty project.