I Am Chris Farley


He made my life
better by being a friend of mine
.” This line near the end of “I Am Chris
Farley” captures, in many ways, why the loss of Chris Farley hurt so much, and
continues to resonate: he felt like a friend. We had lost talented people
before. We had lost drug addicts and alcoholics. We had lost too many
comedians. But losing Farley felt like losing a friend. It was his relatablity
as much as his talent that made him a superstar. He didn’t look like a
celebrity. He looked like an average guy that you could have known from
Madison, WI. The awkward, shy center of the infamous “The Chris Farley Show”
sketch was something to which we could all relate. Who wouldn’t get nervous around
Paul McCartney? Farley’s humor came from such a genuine desire to entertain. He
was all of us shouting for our mom’s attention at a crowded family function or
hoping that we would know the right thing to say at a social outing. And so
losing him felt like losing a friend. At its best, “I Am Chris Farley,” opening
in limited release this week before hitting the home market and airing on Spike
TV next month, captures why Chris Farley mattered, even if it does sometimes
gloss over a few of the reasons our friend is no longer with us.

“I Am Chris Farley” opens with Lorne Michaels calling its
subject “infuriatingly talented.”
Over an hour later, we’re still hearing someone say, “He had ‘it’.” This is as not so much a documentary as a love
letter. It is for fans, by fans in every way. Everything Farley did, from his
childhood to his time at Second City to “Saturday Night Live” and “Tommy Boy”
is captured as landmark sea changes in the world of comedy. Colleagues and fans
including Adam Sandler, David Spade, Mike Myers, Dan Akyroyd, Bo Derek, Bob
Saget, Christina Applegate and more participate in what feels like a memorial
tribute more than anything else.

The first half-hour of “I Am Chris Farley” proves to be the
most interesting, as it allows friends and family from Farley’s youth to remember
what formed this talent. He was a middle child, always looking for mommy’s
attention and competing with his brothers. He was religious, shy, and overly
kind. From an early age, he struggled with weight and self-esteem issues, but
he had natural ability on stage that really came out in college. Believe it or
not, rugby changed Farley’s life, as playing the sport gave him the support of
teammates and the center of attention at parties. Farley’s antics in college
were legendary, but it was when he discovered improv comedy that everything

Farley went to Chicago with his friends, and contacted the
legendary Del Close for lessons in comedy. It wasn’t long before he ended up on
the main stage of the comedy venue that has produced dozens of household names.
As presented here, Farley’s time at Second City was a force of nature. As the
great Bob Odenkirk (who’s so eloquent here one wishes he would do a whole doc
about the art of comedy) says, everyone who worked at Second City would stop
what they were doing when Farley would do Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker, a
character he would turn into one of the most memorable in the history of “SNL.”

As presented, Farley didn’t audition for “SNL,” he was
plucked from Second City by Michaels himself. As his star grew brighter on the
show, Farley continued to suffer from crippling doubt. Even after the success
of “Tommy Boy,” he worried about what people thought of him, and was crushed,
relapsing, when “Black Sheep” didn’t work. It’s this darker side of Farley that
the doc gives lip service but generally avoids. Every time a relapse is
mentioned, it immediately moves to rehab. It’s a bit too soft in that regard,
unwilling to address the real demons that haunted Farley, how they got there,
and how public perception of the man played into them. Farley was a popular
party animal in college who did extreme things. Did the satisfaction of being a
class clown make him a more likely addict? And what about the fat jokes? The
controversial Chippendales sketch is presented as breakthrough when I actually
find it hard to watch now, especially knowing that Farley called a friend the
night before concerned about being the “fat guy” again.

In the end, “I Am Chris Farley” offers some neat anecdotes—including
the real-life origins of Matt Foley and autobiographical aspects of “Tommy Boy”—and
reminds fans what they loved and what they missed. I kept thinking what Farley
would have thought of it. He probably would have been embarrassed and a bit shy
about the whole thing. But he would have loved the attention. He would have
smiled and laughed. And that’s all that really matters.



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