Lorne Michaels, creator and guiding light of “Saturday Night Live,” said he was, “infuriatingly talented.” David Letterman called him “the human thunderball” while Dan Aykroyd noted his, “automatic charisma.” The “he” is Matt “I live in a van by the river” Foley and “Tommy’s Boy’s” main character, Chris Farley, the heavy-set comedian and subject of a new documentary, “I Am Chris Farley.”
Executive produced by Farley’s brother Kevin, this loving tribute is an affectionate look at the guy who “always looked like he was having the most fun.” Michaels and Aykroyd are joined by Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, David Spade, Bob Odenkirk and a variety of childhood friends to paint a picture of a man who was ruled by his excesses.
After an all American upbringing in Madison, Wisconsin he joined a local improv group and later trained at Chicago’s fabled Second City, where he fine-tuned his wild, out-of-control style under the tutelage of improv king Del Close, who gave him the same advice he gave another of his famous students, “Attack the stage like a bull you have that power.”
And attack he did, quickly becoming a star on “Saturday Night Live” and in films like “Wayne’s World” and “Tommy Boy.” Offstage his behaviour was as frenetic as his onscreen persona. Spade and others say whatever Farley did he did wholeheartedly. If he liked you, he loved you. If he went for a laugh, he would do anything to get it. By the same token, when he let loose, he attacked the bottle, and later drugs, with the same gusto. He was, as one talking head says, “a sweet guy before midnight.”
It’s hard not to compare Farley to another doomed “Saturday Night Live” cast member. John Belushi was another similarly driver performer who left scorched earth behind, on stage and off. Both men died at age 33, the victim of their own overindulgences.
“I Am Chris Farley” doesn’t have the same gut-wrenching impact as “Amy,” the recent doc about the tragic life and death of singer Amy Winehouse. That film has less warmth, and is more an examination of how Winehouse’s world spun out of control. The Farley doc has a kinder, gentler tone and doesn’t dwell on his final moments. Perhaps it’s just as well. As the film makes clear, Farley lived to make people laugh. He wouldn’t want to leave behind a legacy of heartbreak and misfortune.