(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Belushi
Where You Can Stream It: Showtime
The Pitch: A feature documentary from award-winning filmmaker R.J. Cutler about the too-short life of John Belushi, the once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences worldwide. Told using previously unheard audiotapes, this film examines Belushi’s extraordinary life in the words of his collaborators, friends, and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman and his high school sweetheart and later wife Judy Belushi.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: There are plenty of documentaries profiling some of the most famous names in history, science, literature, sports, cinema, television, music, and more. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a documentary like Belushi that focuses on a force of nature in pop culture in such an intensely intimate fashion. Instead of using the traditional talking heads in the homes of those who crossed paths with comedian John Belushi, director R.J. Cutler has pieced together an impressive array of personal photos, home videos, stylish animation, and never-before-heard audio interviews from those who knew him best.
What’s great about Belushi is that it’s not just a surface-level biography about the comedian. Though it hits the touchstones of Second City, Saturday Night Live, National Lampoon’s Animal House, and The Blues Brothers, the film gets infinitely more personal with new perspectives provided by Belushi’s co-stars, family, and his wife Judy Belushi. Accompanied by exquisitely edited montages of photos, home videos, and animated sequences by TRON: Uprising animator and director Robert Valley, these interviews are candid, honest, and paint a more heartbreaking portrait of Belushi than you’ve ever seen before. But it’s the correspondence between Belushi and his wife that makes this movie even more heartbreaking.
Throughout Belushi, Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader provides voiceover reading these letters that are painfully self-aware of the demons constantly kicking around in his head. From the days he spent away from Judy in their younger years to the long distance love that continued as Belushi’s fame grew exponentially in such a short period of time, these letters are full of love and happiness, but they ultimately turn to sadness, regret, and an existential crisis that was only exacerbated by his drug and alcohol abuse.
Though Belushi brought an incredible sense of confidence with him whenever he was in front of a camera or on a stage, there was a level of insecurity that kept him from being happy, even at the height of his success. The end of Belushi’s story is tragic, and unfortunately all too familiar. It’s even more harrowing when you hear how his friends did everything they could to keep him on the straight and narrow, especially those who were immediately concerned about him when his fame was just beginning to rise. At least we can appreciate the short time Belushi was here to bring comedy into our world, and hopefully his struggles can help inform how we live our own lives.
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