A great film can force a whole range of emotions to sweep over a viewer by the time the end credits roll. I'll Be Me, a documentary on the heartbreaking decline of country music superstar Glen Campbell, certainly did that to me and not only because someone near and dear to me died while suffering from Alzheimer's.
Directed by James Keach, who despite 27 directing credits I'll forever remember as the cop who pulls Clark Griswold over in National Lampoon's Vacation, I'll Be Me will have you laughing, sniffing, feeling sympathetic, feeling disgusted and above all else moved.
It begins with Campbell and his fourth wife, Kim Woollen, looking at home movies. He struggles to put names to the faces of his own children, and does not even know one lady was Billie Jean Nunley, his second wife and the mother of three of his eight children.
I'll Be Me, which makes its West Coast premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival this evening, made its world premiere earlier this month at the Nashville Film Festival, just days after Woollen moved Campbell into an Alzheimer's care facility in town "for his own safety."
That's no surprise given what you see during the days before, during and after what would become Campbell's farewell tour in 2012. He was a handful then, and you could see how his temper, triggered by the frustration of dealing with his disease, could easily put him in harm's way.
And yet, I'll Be Me is not a total downer. Archival footage lets us remember the Campbell who ruled the pop entertainment world. Even today, or at least back in 2012, he shows flashes of his infectious cornball humor, love of people and movie star good looks. More amazing were his pitch-perfect singing voice and masterful guitar work, which a doctor theorizes were so well honed, the parts of Campbell's brain that control them will be the last to go.
A high point in the film is Campbell performing "Rhinestone Cowboy" at the February 2012 Grammys. A low point is the final show of his tour nine months later in Napa. I don't know if Woollen and her children with Campbell–sons Cal and Shannon and daughter Ashley, who performed in their father's back-up band–came in for criticism for taking an ailing man on tour. I suspect they did.
But, at least as presented by Keach, Ashley and especially her mother come off as patient, heroic even, leading him to the one place where he could still experience bliss: the stage. He was greeted by loving ticket buyers willing to roll with forgotten lyrics and songs played in the wrong keys. Cal and Shannon, who come off more like sidemen than siblings, should have been featured as prominently as their mother and sister. Perhaps that's the fallout from the camera drinking up the attractive blondes.
Who ever would have figured "cards and letters from people I don't even know" could be applied to Glen Campbell's family members?
I'll Be Me screens at 5:15 p.m. at South Coast Village Theater in Santa Ana.
More recommendations on the next page …
Animator and frequent NBFF filmmaker Bill Plympton explores a couple's steamy coupling and violently adulterous un-coupling. It's a very clever piece that grows trippier as it rolls on, but it would have been more effective at less than 79 minutes IMHO. It screens with Plympton's Drunker Than a Skunk, which was not previewed. (5:30 p.m. at The Triangle in Costa Mesa; also 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at Fashion Island Cinemas)
David Renaud's funny and snappy short wakes up with a woman in a married friend's guest room, next to an equally very naked man she cannot remember hooking up with. Winces and hilarity ensure. This is part of the Happily Ever Shorter program. (8 p.m. at The Triangle).