‘Your Friend, Memphis’ Feature Documentary SXSW Film Review – Deadline


The challenges and vicissitudes of living with cerebral palsy are made quite clear in Your Friend, Memphis, a sympathetic, up-close documentary that traces a few years in the life of a young man whose teenage optimism about his prospects narrows considerably as time marches on. It’s a poignant but ultimately tough tale that reflects reality in which youthful hope almost inevitably gives way to the realization that, by one’s twenties, things are never going to get better, that life’s prospects decrease with age and the disappearance of family members and engaged helpers. As upbeat and determined as the subject is in his youth, grim facts at a certain point are impossible to ignore.

Deadline

“If you all weren’t here filming me, I would be alone,” grins the often enthusiastic and generally personable Memphis DiAngelis, who was diagnosed at age one, is 5’3, “shuffles along with a pronounced awkward limp, has thick glasses, bad skin and a twisted right arm, and speaks clearly but in an exaggerated way marked by erratic cadences and slurred words that are sometimes sufficiently incomprehensible to warrant the subtitles that accompany his speech.

At the outset, Memphis declares that he’s trying to figure out life’s purpose — aren’t we all? —But for him it’s an infinitely more formidable struggle. In 2014, the youngster appeared in a Texas-shot film Loveland, which led to a few other gigs as an actor and / or assistant. But the flurry of activity was short-lived, and this documentary by David P. Zucker (no relation to the David Zucker of Airplane! and The Naked Gun fame) focuses on the up-and-down times the ever-hopeful Memphis has been faced with as he pushed into adulthood with few resources other than his own optimism.

The young fellow’s dad is a Texas gun nut who is happy to let his son use his weapons, his bi-polar mother at one point skipped off to Europe before returning to dedicate herself to the youngster and Seneca, the girl he fancies, is very sweet with him but works at Hooters as she plots a career in music and opera in New York.

But once high school is over, his friends slip away and Memphis finds himself more or less stranded. Zucker periodically checks in on the young man whose prospects become significantly bleaker as he settles into adulthood. He tries being an Uber driver but that doesn’t work out, nor does dog walking. He soon becomes convinced that he’ll never have a girlfriend until he has a job, but what he’s confronting is a life with neither. He was taught to dream big but is now facing the prospect of living in a group home, which he considers “kind of a death sentence.”

The overall effect of the film is rightly wrenching, because it becomes increasingly clear that Memphis’ prospects in life are severely limited. Late on, there is a brutal encounter with Memphis’ dad, suddenly looking significantly older, in which he blurts out, “You’re just not bright enough to figure anything out.”

Shot across several years, the film takes a long journey from upbeat and inspirational at the outset to grim and forlorn at the end; although highly selective in what it shows, it feels comprehensive enough to indicate what’s going on. Might there be further installments? One would hope so for everyone’s sake.





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