At CAAMFest, some friends of mine were interested in seeing Starring Jerry as Himself:
“Wait wait. How did we go from funny 80s immigrant family home videos to horror film infrasound playing behind an ominous phone call from Shanghai Police? How does sweet Gong Gong Jerry, a Taiwanese retired elder living in Orlando, become a suspect in a sophisticated international money laundering scheme? I mean, there has to be some kind of mistake! FREE JERRY! Overheard, “We need to investigate you or else we will have to charge you as a criminal.” Things from there get even more WILD, leaving us asking out loud, is this a documentary film pretending to be a narrative film? Are our minds racing and pupils dilated the whole time? Yes, yes they are. So, Jerry is the Florida version of Jason Bourne and Ke Huy Quan, and the whole time you will be rooting for him – his secret agent vibes, dad love language, and currents of candid loneliness. We’re totally not crying, it’s just raining on our faces. Also, have you checked-in with your parents today? (Hint: you better!)”
After seeing the trailer, I thought it was interesting enough that I’d go see it as well with them. I enjoyed the film, but from the trailer, it’s not exactly what you think it is and is done so in a way by the filmmakers on purpose. The director himself, before the film started, said the film was ‘weird.’
Starring Jerry as Himself’ (SJAH) is like a re-enactment of a real story done in a documentary style (“docufiction”), and I didn’t find it weird.
When Jerry, his son, and the director, walked on stage for the post screening panel, there was a standing ovation in support of Jerry’s ordeal.
The post screening panel helped provide a lot more context and answers. If you watch the video, it will kind of spoil the surprise of the film. That’s one reason why my review of the film is a bit generic.
One of the takeaways is certainly to try to have deeper conversations with you parents, especially as adult children and try to understand your immigrant parents before they leave you forever. Don’t let a crisis be the impetus to grow closer to your family, though sadly, that is often the case for many families.
After getting out of the theater, I was able to ask the director quickly when the film was being released widely, either streaming or in theater, and he said as he was running off elsewhere that they were still looking for distribution.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. I’m not sure the pacing (the movie didn’t drag – the film is only 75 minutes) and style would necessarily appeal to a mainstream audiences. There is an audience out there for it, especially once you understand the conclusion of actual events at the end, it has a very important message.
The film originally debuted at the Slamdance 2023 film festival (which runs concurrently in Park City during the Sundance film festival), and has been playing at other film festivals since then and has thus far received 3 out of 3 “fresh” reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.