The life and times of John Belushi is presented in this funny and emotional doc.
John Belushi has lived a short life from 1949 to 1982 as one of Saturday Night Live’s legendary comedians. As a Chicago native, he made a few comedies like “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “The Blues Brothers,” “1941,” “Continental Divide,” and “Neighbors” (obviously not the Seth Rogen movie). He could have been bigger, make more movies, and I would have loved to see what he looks like as an old man, “But N-O-O-O-O-O-O-O.” He had to die from a combination of cocaine and heroine, known as a speedball.
The documentary “Belushi,” written and directed by R.J. Cutler, honors the late comedian by telling fans about his ups and downs, his friends and family, and how he ended becoming a comedy legend.
The movie features unreleased interviews from his fellow collaborators like Lorne Michaels, Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, Matty Simmons, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase as well as Belushi’s family, like his brother Jim, and the love of his life Judith. They all reveal their experiences with him, as well as is stepping stones of his life. His grandmother was the only one to give him and his siblings her unconditional love, his wife found the man of her dreams, and before SNL, he performed at The Second City comedy club in Chicago, and joined National Lampoon-“National Lampoon’s Lemmings” and “The National Lampoon Radio Hour.”
The comedian also had some struggles in his life. They would include his parents, both of whom he worries about being unhappy, his dislike for doing the bees segments and working with Chevy Chase on SNL, and his questions about what viewers expect from him. But the biggest issues involve how he had to resort to drugs to help him get through the busy weeks, and how his current state forced him to quit from the show. Even when he was filming “The Blues Brothers” with Dan Aykroyd, he was half-there and half-gone.
There are also animated sequences that represent moments in John’s life, like when he’s performing for his siblings at the dinner table, how he met his wife, how he had to turn down his father’s offer of running the family business, and how he started to sing on the microphone. They’re given a comic book style, like something out of Stephen Silver, and they’re colored with a moody tone. John looks sincere as a kid and an adult, and his archival voice recordings match the mouth movements very well. Kudos to Robert Valley for the animation.
Other than some vague details, “Belushi” captures his life and the impact he’s had on his collaborators and fans. This doc reveals his joy and sadness-when we see his footage and interviews, it’s fun, and when we see his deteriorating condition, it’s very sad. I’m glad I was able to see this online at the Chicago Film Festival, because my father and I are fans of him, and I’ll never forget how we watched “Animal House” together. And I’ll always enjoy his SNL characters from Samurai to Larry Farber to Pete Dionasopoulos (the Cheeseburger Cheeseburger skit). But now that I see this movie, I must also acknowledge that comedians are human beings too, and the final 15 minutes brings tears to your eyes. It’s hard. It really is, but we must also cherish his humor, dialogue, and impressions.
Streaming on https://www.chicagofilmfestival.com from now to October 25
Premiering on Showtime November 22.