By Vic Holtreman
Short version: A self-promoting, off-beat quasi-documentary that people in the lower ranks of the Hollywood movie machine will appreciate more than most of us.
I thought that with all the press surrounding Michael Moore and his latest film Sicko, it might be fun to review a (semi-)documentary about Michael Moore. Well, at least partially about him.
First off, you need to know that despite the promotional material and the title, Michael & Me is not really about Michael Moore, bashing or otherwise – so for both Moore haters and defenders there’s not really much to get bent out of shape over with this flick.
Having seen the film, I found that more than a bit misleading. Sure, the latter part of the film does cover the filmmaker’s attempts to get through to Moore, and as far as that goes it is quite an ironic counterpoint to Moore’s documentary Roger & Me, in which he was never able to get a hold of Roger Smith, head of General Motors at the time.
Really, this is an autobiographical account of the lifelong attempts of comedian(?) Willard Morgan to “hit it big” in Hollywood. Never heard of him? Me neither, and it seems to me this DVD is yet another attempt to gain the attention of someone (or anyone) in the film business in L.A.
It starts out seeming like a straight documentary, quickly covering Willard’s younger days and forays into the world of comedy. He comes to the conclusion that he wants to be a filmmaker, and it seems like many of the books out there on the topic recommend finding a mentor. This is where the film starts to veer off with the introduction of a number of characters (the majority of which are Morgan himself in costume and makeup) that he meets one by one, trying to find someone to be the perfect mentor.
During the process we see that he’s done what probably a lot of actors and fledgling filmmakers have done: acted in and produced stuff that’s basically garbage. He does get a fleeting moment of almost fame when his short film Jimmy’s Reality (very short, at one minute and ten seconds long) wins the prize for best short film at the Sundance Film Festival in 1994. Unfortunately he is not able to parlay that win into anything else at all, despite the fact that it is shown at a few other film festivals. Morgan ends up making a 10 minute documentary about his experience at Sundance called Festival Fever and starts to pitch it around, with no success.
However one day he receives a call from the office of Michael Moore, stating that Moore wants to see the short film. Morgan is of course very happy to hear this and decides he’s found his mentor – a filmmaker who started at the bottom and “stands up for the little guy.” He sends in the film, waits a few weeks, gives Moore’s office a call and no news. This is where we begin the “stalkumentary” phase of the film, where Morgan tries harder and more frequently to get in touch with Moore.
This is where the parallels to Roger & Me kick in, and for the most part it’s quite interesting. Moore is at first gracious, but as Willard continues to get non-committal replies (whoever called on behalf of Moore apparently never mentioned it to him), he tries to get face time with Moore more and more often, to the point where the big fella considers Willard a stalker who “needs to get some help.”
Although a lot of it struck me as self-indulgent, I could definitely see the insider humor here and the movie elicited more than a few chuckles from me. In particular the “Filmaholics Anonymous” scene, where a number of people stand up to talk about their never-ending quest to get into filmmaking despite the problems it’s caused in their lives – I found to be both funny and a bit disturbing at the same time. Also sad (to me) was when he highlighted an older fellow named Dennis Woodruff, who despite having been in Hollywood for 20 years continues drives the streets promoting himself in outrageously decorated cars hoping to still get that big break.
The DVD includes four extras, three of which can be skipped IMHO, but you may want to check out the Festival Fever documentary, which is actually kind of interesting.
Not a rousing recommendation, but if you’re one of those folks who’ve moved to L.A. and have been struggling to break into the movie biz, I think you’ll appreciate this one as well as the guy who created it.
For more about the film go to MeAndMichaelMovie.com