WATCHING CHRIS FARLEY still feels weird. Everyone's favorite era of Saturday Night Live tends to be the one they grew up with, and for me, that was the SNL of the mid-'90s, when the show was the stomping grounds of Norm Macdonald, Mike Myers, Molly Shannon, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Ellen Cleghorne, and Phil Hartman. And looming among them—sometimes literally—was Farley, who wholeheartedly committed to every sketch, from his Chippendales dance-off with Patrick Swayze to telling Christina Applegate what it was like to live in a van down by the river. By the time Tommy Boy came out, Farley's stardom seemed certain. Farley died at 33; he should've just been getting started.
So yeah, weird: Many of the clips in I Am Chris Farley are impossibly, shockingly funny; I laughed more, and more deeply, during this documentary than I do during most comedies. And the clips aren't just from SNL, either: Blurry VHS footage captures Farley's Second City performances, showing Farley's earliest days as a comedic hurricane. They're interspersed with interviews with those who knew, and worked with, Farley: his brothers, his college buddies, his old improv coaches, and everyone from Myers to Sandler, Spade to Shannon—there's Lorne Michaels, Bob Odenkirk, Tom Arnold, Dan Aykroyd, Jay Mohr. Throughout, there's a great warmth and a rare sense of reverence. But as Farley's addictions and stints in rehab come into play, something else creeps into those interviews—a darkness, an anger. It's the sort of anger people can only have towards someone they love.
Watching I Am Chris Farley feels a bit like whiplash: I repeatedly found myself bursting into giddy laughter one minute and tearing up the next. Brent Hodge and Derik Murray's documentary is eagerly respectful, and never feels manipulative, but it does feel like it's trying to capture the big, impossible whole of Farley's life and work—which was, by its nature, both funny and sad, predictable and shocking. If you grew up like me, watching SNL in the '90s and wearing out tapes of Tommy Boy, you should see it. You might cry. You'll definitely laugh.