AFI FEST 2020: Belushi Review – Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

R.J. Cutler’s Belushi approaches his subject matter with such a love for him and his wild comedic talent. Although the film doesn’t have many surprise revelations in store for you, Cutler’s film tells Belushi’s story through the words of the people that knew him and his intimate letters to his wife. In many ways, Belushi’s story follows the same tragic tale as other Hollywood actors gone too soon: A young up-and-coming talent, haunted by their inner demons, loses their battle with drugs. Belushi follows the life of John Belushi with help by never-before-heard audio tapes and never-before-seen letters to his wife, Judy Belushi Pisano. 

We all know Belushi’s tragic story, but R.J. Cutler allows John Belushi to tell his story in his own words thanks to some various archival sources. Outside of Belushi’s archival interviews, no talking heads appear on camera. The audiotapes that appear in the film are being heard for the first time as well. Those interviews conducted by author Tanner Colby, which he recorded for the biographical book about the actor, are the primary basis of R.J. Cutler’s biographical documentary. Cutler also gives audiences a taste of Belushi’s chaotic energy through clips from his early work on Lemmings to his work on Blues Brothers. Even if those who know his story won’t be too surprised by what they see, it can still be thrilling to watch Belushi in action.

When Cutler doesn’t have any existing pictures or clips to accompany the story, he uses vector animation created by the amazing Canadian animator, Robert Valley (Tron: Uprising). Valley illustrates various parts of Belushi’s life in such an artistic and visceral way. Cutler also uses letters that Belushi wrote to his wife. What starts as cute and touching letters to his high school sweetheart progressively spirals to cries for help. You can feel the hurt and pain when he writes about losing to his drug habit. One of the songs in Blues Brothers is “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” and one can’t help that the song is John’s way of crying for help.

Outside of a few sequences with animation, the documentary is wholly archival. Colby’s audio tapes are low-fi recordings of telephone conversations, so several interviews won’t sound clear at all. This usually isn’t a problem for a biographical book, but several interviews can be difficult to understand. As a result, it can be a distraction in a film, and as the primary basis of the movie, it’s hard to tell the story of John Belushi if you can’t understand what the people are saying.

Overall, Belushi to a poignant look at a man that inspired a bevy of comedians. He’s a man that has given the world so much laughter, despite his hidden battles. It’s a documentary that ends on a sad note, but it’s also a celebration of the joys that John Belushi gave to the world. After all, you can’t touch upon the performer unless it touches upon the human being as well.

Rating: 4/5 atoms

Belushi premieres on SHOWTIME on Sunday, November 22 at 9/8c.

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1615 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.