It’s difficult to rate or really review a documentary like this. It feels much more like a love letter/gift to Anton Yelchin’s family and loved ones, not a documentary with something larger to say. It’s beautifully edited and quite moving, but would it have an impact one someone who doesn’t really know who Anton Yelchin was? That’s unclear. Yelchin, who passed away at age 27 from being crushed between a gate and his car, was in 62 films with a lot of breadth and diversity in genre, so at least he’s known to many as an actor. This film gives a sweet glimpse into not only his career but his interests and heart.
The film takes you through his life and his film credits in a linear fashion. It follows the son of Russian immigrants to the United States (the famed ice dancing team Irina and Viktor Yelchin), as he grows into a boy with a strong intellectual curiosity and a talent for performing. Then he becomes a young man, admired by many notable actors and filmmakers for his earnest and rigorous performances. That’s what truly makes this film so sad—that he just keeps working and gaining fame, and continuing to be a wonderful human that loves the people around him, especially his parents. There’s hardly a bad word said about him.
It’s very impressive to see his films laid out in a row and discussed, just to see how varied the work, and all the notable actors he came in contact with and made an impact on (such as Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pine, etc). It’s also lovely to hear him discuss art through his journal entries and letters (read by Nicolas Cage in slightly distracting fashion). Then there’s his edgy photography, and the touching home videos of him as a child. It’s an intimate look that is touching but sometimes feels like if he were still alive some of the notes and photos might feel a bit like an insufferable young hipster dude. Sometimes death shines a glowier light on more mundane or tiresome traits.
The tensions that exist in this film are that the rise will be cut short and the newly revealed knowledge that Yelchin, from a very young age, was battling cystic fibrosis. That information makes it pretty powerful that he was able to do as much filming as he did over the course of his abbreviated life. Another tragedy is that towards the end of his life, Anton was finally ready to share publicly his affliction and wanted to put his star power behind him, helping others with CF. Hopefully if anything can really come out of this film, it’s that people struggling with CF can find some strength in how much Yelchin accomplished in his short life.
What doesn’t get mentioned in the film is that Yelchin’s parents after his passing made a foundation in his name to support young people pursuing the arts while managing a disability or disease, and that the foundation donated one million dollars to the USC center where he was treated for CF. It would have been interesting – and perhaps a bit more impactful – to end the film with some of the lives touched by the foundation, so that Yelchin will live on not only in his films but in his message of resilience and hope for young dreamers struggling with disease.