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Stutz movie review: Jonah Hill bares his soul in moving documentary on Netflix

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Oscar-nominated actor Jonah Hill makes an early promise in his new documentary, Stutz. Sitting across from his friend and personal shrink Phil Stutz in what looks like a lavish office overlooking the Los Angeles skyline, Hill says it won’t be a filmed therapy session. “I’m making a film about you, not about me,” he says after careful consideration. And having made the decision, he closes a question about his brother. You have an idea of ​​where this is happening.

In the opening scenes of Stutz, the film, which opened on netflix this week, Hill deflects every time his psychiatrist subject points him in the face and asks a personal question. Stutz doesn’t seem to be prying, but one would assume that’s the only way he knows how to make conversation – by being curious, with empathy, and breaking down walls. But Hill responds with what is second nature to him: jokes.

Best known for a handful of brilliant Judd Apatow comedies, which he followed up with a series of acclaimed performances in “serious” films, Hill made his directorial debut with the beloved Indie Mid90s – a drama semi-autobiographical coming-of-age inspired by his own childhood in Los Angeles. A black-and-white streaming documentary isn’t what you’d expect from a second effort by a budding young director, but Stutz will be considered a staple of Hill’s filmography years from now.

Of course, all of those promises that the movie isn’t a therapy session are thrown out the window literally minutes after they first made. And yes, Stutz never loses sight of his subject, but Hill is always ready to turn the camera on himself, almost as if eagerly awaiting any sign of encouragement.

The cynical side in me wondered if the premise of the documentary — to share Stutz’s wisdom with the world and showcase his eccentric personality — was an elaborate excuse for Hill to deal with the death of his own brother. But her friendship with Stutz seems too genuine to be fabricated for the camera.

In one scene, Hill breaks the fourth wall in such a surprising way that it completely throws you off balance for a minute or two. Admitting that making a movie about his therapist forces him to lie on camera (and behind it), the suddenly unreliable Hill opens the door to more conversations about what’s real and what’s not. The scene has almost the unsettling effect of HBO’s The Rehearsal, which remains the strangest piece of “documentary” cinema of the year.

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But unlike this show’s host, Nathan Fielder, Hill and Stutz both exude an honesty and warmth that draws you in, no matter how seriously you take the “tools” they’ve come together to discuss. The self-help portions of the movie, as expected, are the least engaging. Maybe because no one needs a movie to cure them (although that’s what most good movies end up doing). Hill swears by these “tools”, to which Stutz gave names like “the maze”, and “the snapshot”, and “the shadow”. But it wouldn’t do anyone any favors to get into what they mean here; and besides, no one could explain these concepts better than Stutz himself.

“It’s either going to be the greatest documentary ever made or the worst,” he says in his thick New York accent, after Hill confessed to his insecurities with the project. “It’s probably both,” Stutz concludes, but makes a point of telling Hill – his manager – that you can only get to the truth through vulnerability.

It’s one thing for the subjects of a documentary to feel emotionally vulnerable, but a director’s job is to use filmmaking tools to convey that feeling to the audience. I can’t be sure, but the camera setup looks a lot like the “interrotron” technique of conducting interviews in front of the camera pioneered by the great documentarian Errol Morris. Once you look past that rather conflicting name, doesn’t “interrotron” sound like a third degree tactic? – you can appreciate the effect it has. It’s a pretty ingenious cinematic tactic, one that allows the interviewer to maintain direct eye contact with their subject, but also allows the subject to speak directly to the camera, and by extension, to us.

Stutz has more directorial talent than you might imagine. But of course, by the time he finally gets to that moment of truth, the pair had been chasing for over an hour and a half — years, in real life — it’s the emotional journey that resonates more than any sort of technical achievement.

stutz
Director – Jonah Hill
Cast – Phil Stutz, Jonah Hill
Evaluation – 4/5

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