Comedian's documentary uses humor for unexpected
purposes in story of connecting with his father.
comedian and SNL alumnus Jim Breuer’s documentary “More Than Me,”
screened July 22 at the Just For Laughs Montreal Comedy Festival, is not
just a typical standard behind-the-scenes look at stand-up comedy or a
particular comedian’s experiences, it’s a lot more.
The focus of “More Than Me” is Breuer’s dad, Jim Sr., age 84 when the
footage was shot during his stand-up tour last summer. Breuer takes his
dad along for the touring, to help buoy his spirits, but more so to keep
him engaged with life, after seeing that on his own, his dad could be
falling into dementia or at least isolation.
What the documentary captures that is novel is Breuer’s ability to use
humor not just to entertain but to cope with a challenging and difficult
situation -- having chosen to be caretaker to his elderly father, and
also at the same time trying to connect with him as a man. Without
getting sappy, there are a lot of priceless moments in the film, because
of Jim Sr.’s irritable and gruff nature and Jim Jr.’s driven need to
poke at his father and get a rise out of him.
There’s also more to the story than just that though. Jim Sr. is a World
War II veteran and Jim Jr. was born to his parents late in life, an
“accident” baby. Explaining this in one of several interview segments
spread throughout, Jim Jr. recalls his classmates in school thinking his
father was his grandfather because he was so much older than the other
dads. And Jim Sr. still even decades later carries the horrors of war
with him, Jim Jr. says he can tell, among other hardships.
So in the context of all that, we get glimpses of father and son
together on the road in a touring bus, with the son trying to keep tabs
on dad’s bathroom habits, fearing inevitable incontinence problems, and
the cranky dad grunting at the son who can’t resist annoying him while
they eat or drink in diners and backstage. “I love getting a rise out of
him,” Jim Jr. says in the film. “I find things to play with him. We
always need to play even when we’re old. I can tell if he’s really not
in the mood for it. But it’s fun to pull it out of him.”
The pivotal example of everything going on in the father-son
relationship both with the caretaking and the effort to get to know the
father, in the documentary that resonates most and points to the
substance of the whole movie, is Jim Jr. talking to the camera between
parts of a scene where father and son are back in a hotel room after a
tough day where the son had to clean up the dad after he shit himself on
the bus. “I wanted to leave him and go out for some beers, I thought ‘I
deserve this.’ But then I thought, I’ll have the whole rest of my life
to go out. And I knew he was ashamed about it. So I turned around and
came back and just told him I wanted to hang out, made it that we were
hanging out, not that I was taking care of him.”
It’s the perfect example of what Breuer says early in the film, that he
thought he could do the caretaking, but do it his way. Unexpectedly, and
in no small part thanks to his dad’s own personality, Breuer and the
filmmakers he worked with have made a compelling, darkly comic and even
instructive documentary about using comedy to get through some of the
darkest things possible in life.
For Laughs -- Montreal Comedy Festival coverage sponsored by
Eric & LaNita Hazard; Irving & Sonya Rozansky.