I Am Chris Farley a bittersweet reflection

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      A documentary by Brent Hodge and Derik Murray. Featuring Chris Farley, Mike Myers, and Molly Shannon. Rated PG.

      Like his hero John Belushi and Canadian counterpart John Candy, Chris Farley ate and drank too much and used his outsized physicality to create indelible moments of comedy. And like them, he messed with drugs that gave his big heart more than it could carry, and he died young, at 33 (as did Belushi; Candy lived 10 years longer).

      This slickly packaged portrait conveys the mania that took young Farley from an oddly idyllic childhood in Madison, Wisconsin, to on-stage antics at college and, from there, to instant success with Chicago’s Second City. That was, of course, the talent pool for Saturday Night Live and SCTV, with the latter named after the venerable improv factory.

      Farley’s three brothers and their mother describe his irrepressible bid for attention from the parents, and especially their lovable blowhard of a dad—absent from the tale because of his death (two years after his son), although that’s not mentioned here.

      Many familiars are on hand, including Matt Foley, the Catholic priest whose name Farley borrowed for his best-known character, a deranged motivational speaker. And SNL colleagues such as Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Molly Shannon, David Spade—his closest show-biz partner—and father figure Lorne Michaels (the show’s Canadian creator) give heartfelt tributes. But everyone’s cagey about Farley’s worst abuses, and few offer any special insights as to why the comic’s compulsion to entertain led so steadily to his downfall.

      These friendly voices—and many laugh-out-loud (if too frequently repeated) clips—aren’t exactly helped by a constant drone of spooky piano music, always reminding viewers, “You may find this funny, but don’t forget that he’s going to die!”

      And there’s so much missing. From the same Vancouver company that made I Am Steve McQueen and other TV-level fare, the generally watchable movie doesn’t tell us that Farley had recorded most of his lines in the title role for the first Shrek movie when he overdosed on cocaine and morphine in 1997, or that he was attached to a biopic of famously doomed silent-era comedian Fatty Arbuckle. At other points, Belushi and Candy were also up for that role.

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