Best Boy (1979)IMDB Entry

Directed by: Ira Wohl
IMDB Entry

I generally distrust "feel good" movies; they're usually manipulative and forsake any sort of complexity in order to pander to the audience.  However, Best Boy is one movie that not only makes you feel good, but also doesn't go for cheap emotion to achieve its effect.

It's a documentary.  Ira Wohl spend three years filming his cousin Philly, a mentally retarded man at a crossroads.  Philly's parents have always taken care of him, but they recognize that their own health is failing, and that Philly has to learn to live without them.  Ira filmed the process in all its pain and triumph.

The idea of taking a camera and following someone around was still relatively new.  We see Philly grow as a human being, venturing outside the world, but it isn't easy.  Ira has to convince Philly's parents to let him grow. Philly's mother, Pearl (left, with Philly) is reluctant, afraid that Philly will find it hard to cope without them.  But she and her husband Max, realize they cannot take care of him indefinitely.

Philly is unforgettable.  Certainly, he is limited, but we get to know him as a complex human being trying to make his way in life -- just like anyone else.  There's an especially charming scene where he goes backstage at Fiddler on the Roof to meet Zero Mostel.  Mostel takes to Philly immediately, and the two join in a duet of "If I Were a Rich Man."

In the end, Philly makes the transition to an assisted living facility, and you feel a major part of the journey.

The film won a Best Documentary Oscar, but, like most documentaries, has vanished from consciousness.  It is a remarkable film, though, and one that definitely will make you feel good about life -- and not manipulated into being so.

10/20/06

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