Sitting down to watch My Heart Is An Idiot, the romantic documentary by FOUND Magazine founder Davy Rothbart and director David Meiklejohn, I expected a typical story of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back…or loses her forever.” Allow me to dispel any preconceived notions: that is not the movie you’re going to get.
The documentary begins with Davy obsessing over his housemate and close friend Alex. He’s preparing for a book tour while she’s preparing to move from Ann Arbor to San Francisco for a new job. Davy’s unsure of what he needs to do to make her his girl. Should he confess his feelings? Make romantic gestures? Move out west to be with her? Both of them are about to embark on their own personal journeys, and the only thing that’s certain is Davy’s rapturous infatuation with her.
Throughout the film he seeks love advice from anyone and everyone: Newt Gingrich, Ira Glass, his deaf mother who channels the spirit of a 2,000 year old monk, and the director himself. But what unfolds, albeit in the self-propelled, over-dramatized fashion of a man who is very well aware that he’s documenting his romantic life, is a love story about love itself: the passion between a guy and a girl, the bond between mother and her son, and the mirror-gazing adoration of self-obsession. It begs the age-old question is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? The answer is especially sticky if the object of that love is yourself. Because, without giving anything away, Davy loses his mind over women. Frequently.
My Heart Is An Idiot is, at times, painful to watch, and I mean that in a really good way. Featuring autobiographical footage of Davy at younger ages, it is brutal to see a subject vulnerable from all angles, crying over his high-school girlfriend and obsessing about former lovers that we don’t even see on film. Meiklejohn’s unobtrusive handling of his gregarious subject, even when confined in a van with him while on tour, is impressive, as are the exquisite shots that he creates to further illustrate his subject’s fragile and varying emotional state.
What’s interesting about this documentary is the fact that the objects of Davy’s affection are as hyper-aware of the camera as he is, but often they’re less comfortable in its gaze. Some enjoy being filmed, while others are shy, guarded, fidgety and skittish. Amplifying the relationship between the camera and the captured is the fact that Davy’s emotions seem to require the camera to fully display their depth. The subjects in question are assaulted by the jackhammer of his love for this girl, and his love of love in general. There is a staged sentimentality that he creates at times, and because the documentary itself is Davy’s brainchild, there is a certain distance that results between his love interests and the film’s creator. It’s as if, by knowing that they are the catalyst for the documentary, they can’t believe that any of his feelings are sincere. The line between life and art is blurred, and it seems that Davy’s love is mimicking both, without being sure which is imitating which.
As the movie follows Davy across the country and back again, it stops being purely a chronicle about relationships and starts to become a character study. And while, as a woman, it’s sometimes easy to hate Davy, the film teases you with the notion that you are probably none better. After all, hasn’t everybody been an asshole because of a crush?
The film’s real achievement is felt when Davy is clearly presented with the opportunity to change. Will he take it? Will those around him believe the changes are genuine? And, really, if a man is making a documentary film about his love life, does he actually want things to be peaceful, wholesome, and happy? Contentment doesn’t breed good art.
By striking a chord of omnipresent vulnerability, love, and loss, My Heart Is An Idiot goes beyond the simple subjective scrutiny of one man and his inability to be romantically complacent. It’s self-analysis that is so detailed, so relentless, that it transcends being a single story and becomes universal. At its core Rothbart and Meiklejohn are successful in getting their viewers to realize that, just like him, their hearts are idiots, too.
For more about My Heart Is An Idiot, check out the film’s website.
Or, if you’re on the west coast, stop by one of their screenings and let Dave and Davy know how you feel about love, travel, your parents or booze:
Thursday, June 9: Los Angeles, California – Bootleg Theater, 8PM
Friday, June 10: San Francisco, California – Roxie Theater, 3PM, 5PM, 7:15PM and 9:30PM
Saturday, June 11: San Francisco, California – Roxie Theater, 3PM and 5PM
Sunday, June 12: Sacramento, California – The Guild Theater, 7:30PM
Wednesday, June 15: Portland, Oregon – Crow Manor, 8PM
Saturday, June 18: Seattle, Washington – Central Cinema, 8PM