Sunday, July 14, 2024

Anton Yelchin was a tremendous young actor with an intimidatingly inquisitive mind and a giving, warm heart. He was lost far too young in far too strange and unnervingly random a tragedy. “Love, Antosha” celebrates what he gave to the world and what we lost when his light was extinguished. It fails to break any boundaries in documentary filmmaking, relying heavily like many biographical pieces on talking head interludes and a need to cram everything about the central figure’s life into a 90-minute runtime. But when those interviews include the likes of Frank Langella, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Jodi Foster, Chris Pine and so, so many more, all speaking with palpable grief and admiration, they take on real poignancy. Even more important, and easily the most effective part of the filmmaking done here by director Garret Price, are the moments spent with Yelchin’s parents and, in particular, his mother, with whom he shared colorful and consistent correspondence (and whose sign-off inspires the name of the film). It’s here that we see past the veneer of fame and the ambitions of a young man whose goals and aspirations weighed heavier than his shoulders could bear, and the son who brought such joy into his parents’ lives.

The film also illuminates impressively his character and inner demons, rather than resting solely on a “greatest hits” reel style of documentary. We see pieces of some of his better-known work, such as “Charlie Bartlett,” “Like Crazy” and “Star Trek,” but even better are the glimpses of his process. We watch a video clip he recorded before a scene in “Alpha Dog” in which his character drinks alcohol – something he had never done – in which he studies himself drunken to know how his character should behave in a certain scene. We are shown his scripts, which are consumed by notes that both edit his lines and add context to his characters. We even are privy to notebooks drowning in lists and stream-of-consciousness ramblings about his daily mood or, even more intriguingly for film fans, his takeaway from movies (or other media) he’d recently seen.

What comes as a revelation is that the actor struggled with cystic fibrosis, a debilitating disease for anyone but particularly for a young man performing on film, traipsing through the seedier parts of Los Angeles to add to his burgeoning career as an avant-garde photographer or playing live shows with his band. His persistent need to track his health and to wake up early for breathing exercises makes his death all the more devastating – his time on this earth had already come with an expectancy shorter than most, and he was committed to beating the odds. For something as random as a recalled Jeep pinning him to his home’s gate, robbing him of air, the sense of injustice is all the more prominent.

Price’s film is unable to move away from the standard biographical documentary beats – introducing the subject as a child and following them to their death – and survives on its interviewees rather than from any artistic framework of the filmmaker. The documentary manages to invigorate because it’s difficult not to be swept up in the enthusiasm Yelchin had for life, but the note we’re left on is almost unbearably bittersweet.