City Paper is not for tourists
Tom Shadyac would like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love. Not a big home, mind you—-perhaps a trailer, like the one the director of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty now lives in. Because greed is bad, man, and nothing in nature takes more than it needs.
Those are some of the tie-dye-tinged lessons Shadyac learns in I Am, a documentary he decided to make after a biking accident left him with post-concussion syndrome and “welcom[ing] death.” Before he died, though, he wanted to leave a message, so he set out to discover “what was wrong with the world and what we could do about it.” Talking to spiritual leaders, philosophers, and scientists, he finds something more positive: We’re all connected and affect each other, via energy fields and the fabled ability of an individual to bring about change.
Commentators include Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and a bevy of unknowns, and the documentary is a bit all over the place as they discuss everything from democracy in nature (which is kinda fascinating) to how we breathe the same air as the ancients to consumerism to how sympathy, according to Darwin, is our strongest instinct. With wild hair, beach-bum threads, and a stoner smile—-and having ditched his Beverly Hills mansion for a more humble, decidedly un-Hollywood abode—-Shadyac spends nearly as much time in front of the camera as behind it, stopping just short of murmuring things such as “Whoa. Dude.”
Yet the film occasionally plays like an America’s Funniest Home Videos reel, with crotch shots and montages of people falling down. (Mostly to illustrate the sympathy theory.) It doesn’t quite fit in among images of cute penguins and monkeys hugging, but it’s befitting stuff from the guy who once earned a living making Jim Carrey talk out of his ass.