Directed by Andy Ostroy
I never really react much when favourite film stars or composers die. I see people on Twitter proclaiming their grief and always wonder why the heck the person is so vocal and shook up about it, considering he or she’s never likely to have even met or corresponded with that person. Maybe I’m demonstrating what psychiatrists call an ‘absence of appropriate affect’ but, yeah, I never really understood it.
I remember going on to the internet one day in 2006 on my lunch hour at the office and reading that Adrienne Shelley had been found dead in her flat, a suspected suicide. That one really hit me and I remember tearing up and trying to figure out why the heck I was reacting that way? I’d never met her and she was as distant to me as another planet in the heavens but, yeah, she was an actress I really empathised with, it turns out. I’d only seen her in three things... two films by my favourite living director Hal Hartley, called The Unbelievable Truth and Trust and also a random TV episode of a show called Early Edition. They were the first two feature length films by Hal and were also Adrienne’s first two films ever. I’d never seen a single episode of Early Edition, before or since but, I remember seeing a trailer for the show and, upon seeing Adrienne was in it, I made a point of watching it. So, yeah, something obviously clicked and I was also looking forward to a new film she’d apparently written and directed (and appeared in) called Waitress at the time. I felt grief over her passing for, I dunno, some inexplicable reason, being that it was for someone who I never knew but even more so when it was later discovered she’d been murdered (it was originally a suspected suicide but, when you see this beautiful documentary, you’ll see how ridiculous it was that anyone could ever believe it).
The actress had everything about to really come together for her. She didn’t know it yet but, a few days or so after her untimely death at the age of 40, leaving behind her loving husband and daughter, Waitress was accepted into the Sundance festival. It went on to become a hit movie and was then adapted into a very long running, successful stage musical... but she was not around to experience her success.
This documentary, Adrienne, is certainly about her life but, perhaps somewhat more so, it’s about the husband Andy Ostroy and their daughter Sophie, who were left behind and how they dealt with it. How they are continuing to deal with it. It’s directed by Mr. Ostroy and there’s much less of the ‘talking to the stars’ aspect than you might think of in this kind of movie. I mean, sure, there are various interview moments from the likes of Robert John Burke, Hal Hartley, Cheryl Hines, Kerri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Paul Rudd and various friends and family... and it all paints a wonderful picture of Adrienne. However, this documentary is also, I dunno, it’s plays as something like an exorcism of bad spirits or at least an acknowledgement of the struggle of the surviving family members.
It’s structure and focus, which then allows us to slip into a continuing look at Shelley’s personal story, is of Andy and Sophie. Andy also remembered the many difficult but heart tugging conversations he had with his daughter, who was just three when her mummy left them, and the two have reconstructed the conversations as voices in some lovely, very moving little line drawing animated sections which punctuate the movie at regular intervals. I have to say... maybe it’s more to do with me getting old but I started tearing up a little from about two minutes into the film and didn’t really let up until after it had finished.
This first two minutes or so show a Halloween party that Shelley was at (or had thrown) the night before her untimely death at the age of 40 and she looks so happy with her daughter and where she was in her life that, when you think of it, it was preposterous that the police could, for even one minute, believe this was a suicide. And so the film also starts to highlight Andy’s story of getting the police to investigate the case seriously and getting an arrest and confession very quickly (as it turns out, yeah I remember at the time it was a quick turn around on the media), due to a smart cop who spotted a feint trace of construction dust and a tell tale footprint in Shelley’s bath tub, where the killer had staged the murder to look like a suicide.
While this piece highlights the good work of The Adrienne Shelly Foundation, set up by Andy to help women filmmakers get projects made, the film builds to a moment when the killer agrees to Andy’s request to meet with him in jail, where he is about 15 years into a 25 year sentence. That’s an interesting interview and I’m not a hundred percent sure of what to make of it... so I’m not going to judge that sequence because I don’t have any real understanding of how both parties are dealing with their actions, emotions and consequences at that time but, yeah, it maybe brings a certain amount of closure to the audience, if not to the people caught up in the events.
At the end of the day, Adrienne is an absolutely wonderful tribute to one of the unsung, or at least underseen, geniuses of the art of cinema (writing, acting and directing) and, also, for me personally, as I’ve been putting off watching Waitress for the first time for years because I’m still upset about Shelley’s death... it’s a wake up call to get it out of the ‘to watch’ pile on the other side of the room where I type this. Also to explore a fair few other things she either co-starred in, wrote or directed... which I had no idea she was even involved with. So that’s something else I have to squeeze into the next couple of years, if I can find these films. Needless to say, I think Andy Ostroy has made a bold and beautiful film here and I would recommend it to anyone. I hope this one gets a Blu Ray release at some point because I’d like a proper physical edition on the shelf.