Most documentaries fly over people’s heads about ten minutes after watching them. The info is digested, the hook is received, and the mind drifts to the next news story or high-budget blockbuster. The gem of Netflix’s “Stutz” is creating a doc that speaks to millions of people.
Directed by and co-starring Jonah Hill, this raw and introspective 96-minute film dives into the life and methods of the actor’s longtime therapist, Phil Stutz. A wise-cracking and very intelligent screen presence instantly, this Dr. Phil is so much interesting than the one who has a syndicated TV show. Stutz breaks down the methods of madness that he uses on patients like Hill, basing his entire practice off a pyramid theory of self-care. Without banging our heads with the message, Hill and Stutz create a conversational aesthetic that only gets better as the film climbs into act two.
Along with being a full dive into self-care and mental health’s unique relationship, “Stutz” is wistfully self-aware. Midway in, the fourth wall is broke, an occurrence that takes place due to the duo circling around the idea of how to make a movie about a therapist that doesn’t come off as preachy. They found success here, in what works well as an essential two-person play. Phil explains his methods, and Hill changes chairs and fires questions at him about his own life and struggles.
What unfolds is one of the most raw and revealing documentaries about the world’s greatest enemy at the moment: mental health and the steps towards understanding (not correcting) its effect, which would in turn slow down its wrath. But the viewer has to commit early on to the movie’s own methods of madness, which can be slow at certain junctures and can (again) break that fourth wall. In other words, Hill can get up and tell the audience that the documentary wasn’t filmed in one sitting: something that is cemented by the actor taking off a wig that matches the hair that he has early on in the movie.
By being uncompromising and taking its time, even in a lean running time, “Stutz” opens the floor up for viewers to test out the theories on themselves–seeing what sticks and what doesn’t. We come to find out the connection between the two men, which is related to family loss and how their process of healing from that takes years instead of months. As the movie stretched into the second hour, I found myself wanting to know as much as Stutz as I did Hill.
That’s the actor’s plan from the beginning: taking his therapist’s methods-ones that many would agree are confidential-and opening the table up for millions of strangers to understand the process and how to better their own lives. Paraphrasing, but Hill recounts early on and often throughout the film that he struggled with how to best present his movie and story. By taking Phil’s methods of healing and letting the whole world see what helped him and could help someone they know, “Stutz” easily sits atop the rest of 2022’s docs as the most accessible.
That’s not saying the Gabby Giffords story or the Nolan Ryan take aren’t worthy or sit below “Stutz” in possible awards rankings. You just don’t see movies quite like this pop up on streaming services each week. A period piece/series? Sure. A true crime overlong docuseries? Tons. A well-known talented actor putting his vulnerabilities on full display, and adding some humor into the viewing equation? More uncommon for sure.
The humor that Hill and Stutz find throughout the journey makes the experience extra special. It doesn’t turn into a DC comic film depression and sadness summit. At one point, Phil hilariously suggests that Hill stop dumping all of his shit on him. In another scene, the therapist remarks that this could be the best documentary, or the worst. (Hint: It’s far from the worst, and near the best.)
By using the methods; ones as relatable as checking on your body’s health as much as your mind; “Stutz” carves out a whole new niche area for future documentary and regular filmmakers to explore and pry good sentiment from. Did you know that monitoring the relationships with people you know and writing are good tools for mental health struggles? Did you know a simple diet and fitness plan can drastically improve your life?
“Stutz” isn’t here to commit new patients or soak the personal out of their life for all to see; it’s here to teach and help, just like its title character. You’ll attach yourself to Phil’s renegade shrink, someone who sounds like a New Yorker but has stories to back up his stories. I wanted more, in a good way, when I finished this film. It’s full-immersion methods come off as insightful and playful, instead of overbearing.
I left “Stutz” with a few ways to calm down a bad mood or awful week. Tools I will put into action sooner rather than later. Instead of just being another documentary, Jonah Hill’s courageous film opened its doors and just let the audience in. Much appreciated. Highly recommend.