Jonah Hills Stutz turns filmmaking into a mental health metaphor

Jonah Hill gets a bit experimental in his latest directorial outing. His new documentary support — released on Netflix earlier this month — presents itself as a candid conversation between the director and his eponymous therapist dr Phil Stutz. However, it openly deconstructs this premise as soon as it sets it. The film finally plays with several modes and styles. It’s partly a biodoctoral about the life of Dr. Stutz, but it’s also a participatory film in which Hill inserts himself as a crucial main theme. In the meantime, it has also attempted direct cinema, cinéma verité and the quasi-avant-garde. This eclectic mix of forms is sometimes harmonious and sometimes chaotic, but this unpredictable mix ultimately serves the film’s thematic purpose and highlights important parallels between the art of cinema and mental health.

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‘Stutz’ eschews glamor for honesty

Phil Stutz in the Stutz trailer
Image via Netflix

On the surface, support has a strong focus on mental health, with the title therapist sharing his core philosophies on wellness. In the second scene, however, Hill reveals the farce behind the film: how the “candid conversation” was actually shot over two years, with makeup, green screens, and editing techniques giving the illusion of continuity. In a moment as doubtfully unscripted as any in the film, Hill expresses his desire to create something sincere, with less screen magic to refine the story he’s trying to tell. As Hill jokingly draws on Stutz, “The worse it is, the better we did it.” In other words, since the project aims at honesty, the less shiny and cleaned it ends, the more successful it will be.

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This balance between authenticity and illusion is something that all of cinema – and documentary film in particular – is concerned with. At the other end of the spectrum would be a film with a strong artistic hand, something thoroughly written with extensive editing, special effects, or animation. On the contrary, on the extremely authentic side of the spectrum would be a direct documentary without a script, few topics, sparse editing and little camera movement. Where a film falls on the spectrum has to do with how much the filmmaker chooses to interfere with the medium’s indexical relationship to reality. in the supportHill wants to err on the side of authenticity, but knows that absolute objectivity is unattainable.

Jonah Hill in the Stutz trailer
Image via Netflix

Hill’s quest for unattainable perfection has meaning that transcends the film-making process. It bridges the medium and the film’s central theme, mental health. Just as a film can never be truly objective, the human mind struggles to fully decipher its true self. Even off camera, people take on performative roles in different situations. In the meantime, they willingly leave other elements of their identities on the cutting room floor. Hill expresses how he experiences this dilemma not only with his directorial choices, but also in his desire to maintain a strong self-image while rejecting less than desirable parts of his past.

As the film moves on and Stutz tells his life story, there are intermittent sequences of Hill talking about his own journey of self-acceptance, and Stutz guiding him through the process. Stutz’s core philosophy is that there are three constants in life: pain, contradiction and work. While these three constants are usually portrayed as negative, Stutz posits that true happiness comes not from trying to avoid these unavoidable realities, but from learning to embrace the process of navigating with them. This includes learning to love your body, those around you and yourself. Hill and Stutz both become more open as the film progresses, developing these tools along with gratitude for embracing their vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, the documentary seems to be slowly growing into itself, with Hill feeling less resentful of the project’s outcome and appreciating the process.

At least that’s what seems to be going on in the movie. A few moments remain openly scripted, such as when Stutz claims he’s going home only to lie down on a bed conveniently located on the other side of the stage. However, the insights Stutz articulates while lying on this bed are more questionable – are they scripted? Or are you serious? As with any documentary, the audience can endlessly question the extent to which these elements are embellished. While most of the hard information presented throughout the film is factual, the average viewer can never really know how genuine the two subjects are.

However, that is the nature of life. One can never fully know one’s true self. Each wears their own mask and plays a role riddled with varying degrees of inauthenticity. supportThe main message of is that such inauthenticity is a fundamental part of the human experience, and that recognizing and coming to terms with that inauthenticity is more important than avoiding it altogether. Like any good artist, Hill uses the tools of his medium to get that message across, showing how filmmaking and a director’s constant pursuit of perfection is a perceptive metaphor for traversing one’s sanity and perhaps the final cut within to find peace.

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