Chris Farley’s death in 1997 was pretty devastating to the comedy world. Not only was he known for his manic, energetic comedic style, but also for being a genuinely sweet and sincere guy. But while his early demise was sad, it was not unexpected, as his over weight and drug and alcohol use was a concern for all of those around him.
In the documentary I Am Chris Farley, directors Brent Hodge and Derik Murray have were able to speak to some of Farley’s closest friends and family, including David Spade, Mike Myers, Bob Odenkirk, Bob Saget, Lorne Michaels, Molly Shannon, Adam Sandler, Jay Mohr, Tom Arnold, and his brother, Kevin Farley, as they reflect on his life in comedy. We are given insight into his work at second City, his days at SNL, and his process as a comedian. His insecurities are highlighted, like his uncertainty of performing the Chippendale’s sketch (which was his break through moment on SNL), as well as is his kindness and good spirited nature.
Where the film falls short, however, is that his drug and alcohol use, and his eventual death, are almost completely glossed over. His friends each touch on it briefly, but it’s clear none of them are completely comfortable talking about it yet. There is incredible sadness and restraint when they speak about it, and while that is understandable, it unfortunately does not allow for the film to paint a complete picture of the comedian. Towards the end of the film, Bob Saget says “Success in show business does not always create the best version of people.” That may be true, but the film does not really portray that aspect of Farley, leaving Saget’s statement earnest yet hallow at the same time. While filmmakers Hodge and Murray were able to get pretty remarkable access to those closest to Farley, perhaps they are too close to properly be able to step back and truly exam his life, and reflect on his flaws.
That aside, the film is still a fascinating look at the late comedian, and although not as much insight to his demons is given than one would expect, it’s still a joy just to watch him perform.