Jonah Hill’s whimsical and poignant documentary unfolds his treatment like a cross between “The Rehearsal” and a self-help tape.
I am a writer. When my father passed away, I took the writing of a eulogy as my best opportunity to deal with his loss—perhaps as chaotic and selfish as it was, I could either make a flowering spectacle of my grief or let it fester inside me even worse than it was. Always going to. Jonah Hill is a filmmaker (among other things), and when his older brother Jordan suffered a fatal blockage in December 2017, I suspect Hill felt a similar instinct to express himself in the best way he knew.
Likewise, I suspect he faced a version of the same dilemma as anyone who can only access his most private feelings by broadcasting them in public: he can’t deal with the deep personal devastation of his brother’s death by making a movie about it, but making a movie about it would require him Broadcast this devastation for the whole world to watch (or at least for the very large percentage of it that subscribe to Netflix).
And so Hill understandably tried to find a workaround – a way to make a movie about his brother’s death without making a movie about his brother’s death. “Stutz” is that solution, but in a way, it’s also a documentary about this solution and the tools required to create it (the details are best left undamaged, so let’s just say Hill basks in the meta element that locates his film somewhere in between the self-help tape and an episode of “Rehearsal”).
Ostensibly a profile of the funny-mouthed psychiatrist Lewis Hill started seeing long before Jordan died, “Stutz” presents itself as a movie about Phil Stutz and his methods, both loving Hale with the kind of passion someone holds for people and things that saved their lives. ; No matter what this movie is, it always remains a heartfelt homage from a celebrity to their favorite shrink. Hill sets the scene by sitting across from Stutz in his Los Angeles office and explains that he wanted to film one of their sessions to share the doctor’s strategies with as many people as possible, but the process of doing so turns out to be more complicated than either of them can imagine.
One of the first things Hill says here is that he struggles with vulnerability and openness — that in keeping with the career-launching Proms Judd Apatow, he instinctively veers away from discussing his most honest feelings. He even insists that he won’t talk about his brother on camera, which at first comes as a deceptive strategy to get around the seemingly inevitable scene in which he talks about his brother. I mean, it seems a little farfetched for a grieving director to make a documentary about his therapist – who once lost a brother himself – without knowing that his trauma would become part of the story. However, Stutz turns out to be more true to herself than it appears at first glance. The film is barely 15 minutes old before Hill finds himself asking Stutz, “Was it such a horrible idea for a patient to make a movie about his therapist?”
A few moments later, the director broke down the fourth wall to answer that question himself—or perhaps more accurately, he’s tearing down the walls on themselves in a controlled demolition process. Whatever you slice it, Hill’s stunt proves intriguing even as she insists on herself in ways that distract from Stutz’s lessons (which sound great but are quick on a blur of terms that mean almost nothing without him there to help us apply it to our lives).
However, by the time the film ends, his film gives a poignant sense of why he needed to rely on those means in the first place. Officially and frankly, Stutz begins with the premise that you have to be vulnerable to make a movie about being vulnerable. However, at a certain point, the focus became that Hill had to reverse that idea to get anything out of her – that he had to make a movie about being weak so that he himself could become vulnerable. And “Stutz,” more than anything else, is a movie about having to be vulnerable, no matter what it takes to get there.
Courtesy of Netflix
In other words, Hill’s movie is more to him than it is to us, even if that seems to go against his stated goal of spreading the light of his therapist. Stutz begins all of Hill’s sessions by asking (jokingly) him to “amuse me”, and Dr. Hill has a New York sense of humor who doesn’t risk taking Stutz’s order at face value. That’s not to say that “Stutz” is boring — his teachings may not translate, but the man himself has a wonderful on-screen presence, and the doctor-patient dynamic he shares with Hill is so rich and honest that we’ll never feel like we’re just watching someone else do their homework — just to say that The viewer never feels like Hill’s number one priority. He seemed to realize that in real time over the course of the movie, he eventually confessed to Stutz, “It doesn’t matter what people think about the movie; it’s just important that we finish it together.”
Hill and Stutz obviously have gone through a lot of other things together as well, and anyone who struggles to find the right therapist is likely to be jealous of their mutual relationship. Hill may focus on Stutz to distract himself, but his interest in knowing the 74-year-old sitting across from him feels quite honest. The same applies to his interest Help Stutz, so much so that I wonder if this palpable sense of bi-directional growth – where the doctor and patient are in their shit together – is as critical to the Stutz method as ‘part X’ or ‘the maze’ or any other part of the tools that got their code names. Hill’s movie is too rooted in the “here and now” to go full biological, but tells all about Stutz’s past, with archival material illustrating stories about the psychiatrist’s childhood, love life, Parkinson’s disease, etc. Hill publicly worries about the difficulty of turning Stutz’s personal story into a movie that also lends itself to his professional ideas (most of which refute the neutrality of traditional psychiatric care), but he does a good job.
I just wish he’d let Stutz exercise his voice better and explore how he felt about this project. Does the doctor approve of it just because it’s a great ad for their brand? I doubt it very much. Stutz’s post seems motivated by his very true love for Hill, but does he think making this movie would be an effective form of therapy? Is he just happy to see a patient “energizing his life force?” And make their way through the maze?
It’s impossible for viewers to know. Stutz doesn’t tell, and Hill doesn’t ask. I think, to some extent, it was because Hill spent enough time with the doctor to be able to answer these questions on his own. Just like in the end he doesn’t need to raise his brother here, because he certainly discussed it with Stutz at length off-camera. This movie isn’t really for us, but as much as it is, calling out the rubber neck in Hale’s grief wouldn’t be in anyone’s favour. Stutz doesn’t need to do that to convince us that Hill has found a way to make himself vulnerable, and while the director may be wrong in assuming that his film is an effective receptacle for a psychiatrist’s specific tools, it’s hard to imagine a better advertisement for the public impact they’ve had on him.
“Stutz” will be available to stream on Netflix starting Monday, November 14.
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