Judge Katie Herrell is about to get her very own stalker—filmmaker Willard Morgan.
"It's called the film business, not the film art form."
In Me & Michael, it is very possible that writer and director Willard Morgan sincerely hopes to become a successful Hollywood filmmaker, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. But it's equally possible that Morgan is mocking the film industry by making off-the-wall, bad films. Or maybe the man is just delusional. Or maybe I am for thinking this movie sounded interesting.
Facts of the Case
An extremely self-deprecating Morgan tries to gain the mentorship of Michael Moore through Moore's own subject-seeking tactics: the surprise attack, otherwise known as stalking. Morgan claims Moore requested a copy of his short documentary, Festival Fever, about the screening of Morgan's 1 minute and 10 second short, Jimmy's Reality, at The Sundance Film Festival. This small window of hope from a successful documentary filmmaker causes Morgan to dutifully ignore all the rules of breaking into the business (right after he narrates those rules into the camera) and results in Moore teling Morgan over the phone to seek help and later a police escort from building to curb. Ultimately, in an unexplained final scene during the end credits, Moore does reach out to his wannabe self and accepts a copy of Festival Fever thereby throwing into question the validity of the entire film.
The film begins with Morgan shooting Harry's Bar Mitzvah for the son of an unidentified but apparently successful Hollywood figure (the guy paid $30,000 for his son's rite of passage). When Morgan shows his client the footage, the man freaks out calling the piece "Crap with a capital C. R. A. P." and throwing Morgan out of the house as he waddles after in his pajamas using a cane.
Morgan, a self-proclaimed obsessive videographer, captures this diatribe on film, the first signal that maybe this entire documentary is staged. The yelling mogul never asks Morgan to turn his camera off, even as he refuses to pay for the crap before him. Also, at the end of the film we see footage of this same man suggesting Morgan get into the Bar Mitzvah video business in the first place, so he was likely aware of Morgan's film style, which the man lamented was too artistic.
The film continues in this manner with the pitiful Morgan bearing all his failures to the camera he dangles in front of his face. At times, Morgan plays opposing characters, other aspiring filmmakers or festival goers, including one aging hippie who's shooting part of a film in a garbage can with hopes of taking it to Cannes. Um, yeah.
Morgan also interviews real-life characters, like himself, who have been in Hollywood for years struggling to catch a break. There's no commentary on the oddity or sadness of a middle-aged Dennis Woodruff driving around in an garishly painted vehicle with his name and aspiration on the side. Does Morgan admire this guy, or realize there might be lower lows he can still sink too? The answer is not obvious.
Then there's the "focus" of the film, Morgan's attempt to become amigos with Moore, This theme is more of an undercurrent, as Morgan doesn't really begin to chase Moore until almost 25 minutes into this sub-52-minute film. And then chasing Moore is really just an excuse for Morgan to probe his own amoeba-ness on the film scene.
He says, "Don't do anything illegal," while arranging all the elements of a front-page kidnapping case in his trunk (although he never actually carries out a kidnapping), then "accidentally" closes the camera in the trunk. He says, "Don't disrupt their [the movie producer's] business day," and then arrives dressed as a clown to hand deliver his film.
Morgan's "girlfriend" tells him about an F.A. (Filmmakers Anonymous) session she attended and urges Morgan to seek help. While I have no doubt that there's a need for such a support group, any reference to such an entity on the all-mightly Google shows only groups where aspiring filmmakers can support each others work, not a 12-step program to relieve themselves of their addiction.
And then there's Morgan's actual interaction with Moore. He first telephone stalks the behemoth man, talking to one tired assistant after another. Then he stalks Moore at a Barnes and Noble book reading, and appears at a screening of one of Moore's movies—all with camera in hand. At the screening, Moore actually announces on stage that someone is stalking him and is here today, referring to Morgan. Later, when Morgan somehow gets Michael on the phone (How a stalker can just direct dial Michael Moore, I don't know) the maestro tells him to seek medical treatment.
And then there's the finalé, run during the credits, when any sane person would have already tuned out. There's Moore smiling and accepting Morgan's film and business card before saying he'll call him while giving Morgan a one-armed man hug. Huh? What'd I miss? It didn't make any sense—unless the whole movie was a scam.
A scam with spit on the lens and a twirling "I'm the cameraman, now I'm the subject" point of view. Usually, I find this sort of camera work disorienting, but admittedly it worked for the style of documentary—a video diary, more or less. I watched the movie on my Mac, so some of the edge fuzziness was likely a result of my screen, but overall the quality was fine. The audio was also fine, although when Morgan would shift from one character and accent to another it was a bit straining on the ear. Otherwise, there was nothing else of note to the audio.
I thought the special features—other shorts that Morgan's directed or acted in, including the elusive Festival Fever—might illuminate Morgan's true intentions, but really they were just bad and self-indulgent.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You can't help liking Morgan, because so many people hate him and give him a hard time. He's a pitiable man who doesn't learn when to give up, but also enviable for the same reason. Many, many actors have made dud after dud before getting their big break, and their embarrassing early footage always makes for a fascinating E! True Hollywood Story.
Even if I ultimately decide that this movie is a scam—and I'm leaning that way—I don't think it would change my rather negative impressions. It's still hokey and self-indulgent. Maybe the real reason I disliked this film is because it could have been interesting. The premise, chasing Michael Moore the same way he chases his own subjects, could have been done cleverly. I need to go back and watch the Michael & Me (2004) to see if director Larry Elder pulled off what Morgan couldn't.
Not guilty. For there to be a film business, there very much needs to be a film art form. Morgan failed at the the latter, therefore rending the former a failure as well.
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