Film Review: I Am Chris Farley

Written by Scott Clifford


I liked Chris Farley during his comedic run before his tragic death in 1997 and was honored to review I Am Chris Farley for Pop-Break. I looked forward to watching other comedians describe how his physical presence and comedic timing accomplished phenomenal things that usually looked terrible when written down on a piece of paper. I looked forward to reflecting Farley’s ability to make us laugh and then cry when we all knew that he was probably going to abuse some cocaine as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. Obviously, I wanted to understand what insecurities drove Farley’s dark side and how that started specific events in his life that negatively affected those around him. I Am Chris Farley is able to accomplish most of these things except for the last part. In many ways, the documentary is a lot like Chris Farley’s life. It starts out wonderfully, then abruptly ends and leaves us wondering what happened before we change the channel.

I AM CHRIS FARLEY. Courtesy of Virgil Films.
I AM CHRIS FARLEY. Courtesy of Virgil Films.

 I Am Chris Farley starts with home videos of Chris as a child with his family describing his personality. Chris was the son of a charismatic salesman who frequently had the children do crazy things for his own amusement. Even when he was young, his family noticed that he craved that attention in an almost unhealthy way by always trying to be funnier at any cost. This trait led to Farley being the class clown of his school and getting into mischief that would good him jail time today. Luckily for Chris, he was accepted as a cast member of Chicago’s Second City Theatre, an improvisational comedy group. Among his classmates were Mike Myers, and Bob Odenkirk. That’s one heck of a group if I may so. This is where the documentary really shines because it shows how Farley became the man we all loved on Saturday Night Live.
Speaking of Saturday Night Live, it was great to see Adam Sandler and David Spade act like human beings for once as they talk about one of their best friends. David Spade really ties things together because he was closer to Farley more than anyone else like a married couple. I had forgotten that Spade couldn’t even attend Farley’s funeral because he of his emotional state at the time. In many ways, I think that Spade’s love for comedy died when his friend did but I’ll admit that that is probably more speculation on my part than anything. Needless to say, everything up to this point is tightly edited and well shot but things aren’t perfect either. The entire documentary is very conventional and filled with talking head interviews. In fact, it’s so conventional that I get the feeling that this is more of a promotional piece than a true documentary.
I know I can be a jerk sometimes in my reviews but I can’t ignore the fact that Farley’s dark side is frequently swept under the rug throughout this piece. Sure, Bob Odenkirk talks about Farley losing his magic when he was high as a kite. Sure, Michael Myer’s talks about a moment where he pulled the man aside and asked him what he was thinking. Sure, Spade and Sandler say that it killed them whenever they saw Farley fell off the wagon and become an addict for the sixteenth time. All of these things are mentioned but then quickly brushed aside before people talk about how awesome he is again.

I AM CHRIS FARLEY. Courtesy of Virgil Films.
I AM CHRIS FARLEY. Courtesy of Virgil Films.

That’s the problem. I don’t need an hour and a half movie to show me how awesome Farley is. I can just watch a Matt Foley sketch to do that. I don’t need a movie to tell me that I should miss him when I already do. I want to understand what drove his dark nature. I want them to show me events that illustrated his problems and detailed attempts to save him from those issues. Why do I want that? I want it because we all have at least one friend who plays the Chris Farley role in our lives. We all know at least one person who radiates genuine charisma that is fueled by horrible insecurities. Sometimes we are that person in our group whether we know it or not. Either way, this documentary had the chance to really become something more but it decides play it safe and end things right when we’re getting to new territory.

Perhaps most people will have had enough by the time one of Farley’s brothers talks about finding him dead on the linoleum floor. For me, I was wondering what happened to the second half of this documentary.

3 out of 5 or 6.5 out of 10.

I Am Chris Farley is now showing in New York and will be available on VOD on August 11


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