The comedy and tragedy of Chris Farley is so well-documented. He was a booming star. A “human thunderball,” as David Letterman once called him. He grated upon some and excited others with his self-described “fatty fall down” humor. Was the famous Chippendale’s sketch a cheap, demeaning bit of watercooler bait or a master class in total physical commitment to dumb-dumb craft? Motivational speaker Matt Foley is hysterical the first time, but the subsequent seven times as a recurring character on SNL?
Yet in the end, Farley could get you. He could bring the giggles. His very presence commanded you to laugh. Farley knew full well what he was doing; he committed, and he suffered. I Am Chris Farley is all about that explosive Farley legacy. Despite all the well-known demons in Farley’s life, he was the biggest, best bull in the china shop.
Directors Brent Hodge and Derek Murphy assemble a softhearted homage with riveting and, at times, knee-slapping footage. Seemingly everybody shows up to pay respects and fondly remember Farley. David Spade, Adam Sandler, Bob Odenkirk, Bob Saget, Mike Myers, a cavalcade of SNL writers, and even Chris’ many brothers and classmates appear. (Wait until you see Matt Foley, the Wisconsin minister and former rugby colleague of Farley’s whose name inspired that mess of a character.) It seems like it was too easy to get all these people in one film, and once Farley gets going, it’s no surprise why.
They all adored Farley.
He came from a plain Midwestern background, a modest Wisconsin family, and yet like the total middle child that he was, Chris Farley craved attention. “Mom, look at me!” sounds like it was practically tattooed on this forehead. Farley was not shy about asking for your attention, but he would earn it. Sometimes without shame. We see him as a cherub-faced child in home movies and old pictures. His brothers tell endearing stories, with countless anecdotes about Farley being pants-less. Chris Farley even once showed his penis in a typing class as a kid and freaked out the nuns. And yet, the story feels like it’s all in good fun (or in a time when that wouldn’t make news). That’s how much goodwill Farley accrued and how kind this doc is, even when it’s forced to shrug off some of the scarier aspects of Farley’s life. Again, this is less a story than a love fest. Just try not to bust a gut when Farley busts out his dancing in early Second City footage. The freakish speed and shape of the man were amazing.
We witness Farley’s ascent, told in kind by dozens of people. His orbit seems like it was that great. If you’re an avid Farley fanatic, there’s such warmth and crazed comedy on display. And if you never cared for him, it makes a passionate argument that this larger-than-life star was taken way too soon.
I Am Chris Farley is a kind eulogy, a colorful parade of stars remembering the legacy of a famed funnyman. As a remembrance, I Am Chris Farley’s heart, care, and, well, cuteness is undeniable. As an examination, it pulls a few punches, ones you see coming. Yet not every doc needs to linger on the darker sides of humanity, or here, artistry and celebrity. You get the feeling Farley wouldn’t have wanted it that way. And then he would have dropped his pants while you weren’t looking.