Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Running from Crazy: The Hemingways

If when asked who is the most interesting member of the Hemingway family you automatically reply “Mariel” then you must be either Barbara Kopple or Oprah Winfrey. Granted, she was terrific in Manhattan and has dealt with more family heartbreak than anyone should ever have to face.  However, Kopple proves her larger than life grandfather Ernest and tragic sister Margaux are far more compelling figures in the self-helpy documentary Running from Crazy (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York, via the OWN documentary distribution arm.

Seven members of Hemingway’s family committed suicide.  Mariel Hemingway never knew her grandfather, but she always had an extremely complicated relationship with Margaux, the middle sister.  Probably the film’s strongest sequences chart Margaux Hemingway’s spectacular rise to fame as a supermodel and her frustrations with an acting career that never really took off.  Her big break was supposed to be Lipstick, in which she had Mariel fittingly cast as her as her younger sister.  When the film came out, all the good notices went to one sister and the bad notices went to the other.

Frankly, if you were not old enough to remember the Studio 54 era, most of the footage of Margaux as a media sensation will come as a revelation.  In contrast, all we get of Papa is the same old stock footage.  There is plenty of Mariel though.  Kopple follows her to benefits and awareness marches, as part of her ongoing efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness and support those who have also lost loved ones to suicide.  Such dedication is admirable, but it does not make great cinema.

Beyond her well intentioned outreach, Running includes far too much self-actualizing mumbo jumbo.  In fact, Hemingway and her partner Bobby Williams seem to have some sort of New Age lifestyle joint venture, but it is impossible to tell what exactly they are selling, even though we hear plenty of his pitch.

If nothing else, Running will convince viewers under no circumstances would they want to take a rock-climbing road trip with Hemingway and Williams. It would be better to be the dude in 127 Hours.  There is absolutely no reason to force viewers to sit through all their bickering and bantering, but Kopple does so anyway.

Still, the archival scenes of Margaux Hemingway, including footage she shot for a prospective documentary on her grandfather, are truly compelling.  Especially haunting are the interviews she granted ostensibly to trumpet her successful rehab efforts, but look so clearly like cries for help in retrospect.  Mariel Hemingway kind of admits she missed the warning signs, but Kopple never pushes her on this or any other issue.  As a result, the film often has the vibe of an infomercial for group hugs. 

There are moments to Kopple’s starry-eyed film, but it is a disappointment by most cinematic and journalistic standards.  Not recommended in theaters, interested readers should note Running from Crazy will air on OWN next year, which is where it belongs.  Regardless, it opens this Friday (11/1) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.