Documentaries: Where Have You Gone, Lou DiMaggio? (2018) - Reviewed

Lou DiMaggio came up during the fertile and explosive late '70s-early '80s New York City comedy scene. A regular at the legendary Catch A Rising Star, DiMaggio's own star was on the rise, until suddenly in the mid 90's, he called it quits. While his now famous friends were becoming legends, DiMaggio made an unglamorous but steady career for himself writing for television. Then over two decades since his last performance, DiMaggio decided to return to the stage. The funny and fascinating new documentary Where Have You Gone, Lou DiMaggio? chronicles his journey back to stand-up comedy.

Naturally, DiMaggio realizes that he's not the young, energetic upstart he once was. His fears and concerns are genuinely relatable: have I already lived my dream? Is it too late to start over? To find inspiration, good advice, or just a nice chat with an old friend, DiMaggio taps into his Rolodex and enlists a Murderer's Row of comedy talent: Larry David, Ray Romano, Howie Mandel, Richard Belzer, the hall-of-fame worthy list goes on. DiMaggio's conversations are as light and airy as they are fascinating, particularly for the hardcore comedy nerds that are clearly the target audience here. One of the more poignant moments is DiMaggio's conversation with the late Kevin Meaney, just weeks before his untimely passing. Meaney is as warm and witty as ever here, and though he wasn't the household name his contemporaries were, those who know their comedy miss and respect him greatly and will relish their chance to see him one more time.

As much fun as it is to watch comedians shoot the breeze, nearly two thirds of the film's brisk 75 minutes are spent celebrating guys whose names, with all due respect, do not appear in the title of the film. DiMaggio himself is an interesting character, and he does have plenty of stories to tell, but one comes to wish that the film spent more time concentrating on his journey. The big names cash the checks, understandably, but it feels like the film doesn't spend enough time with our hero until the last third of the film as he begins to assemble and hone his act. A great movie could have been made of just the first 50 minutes or the last 25; put together, it's still a very entertaining film, but one that the viewer still hoped would have focused more on one or the other.

Despite this relatively minor gripe there's a lot to love about Lou DiMaggio. The titular hero is likable, relatable, and very funny, and the audience fully invests in his success, cheering him on through the highs and lows of his fascinating life both during and away from comedy. Though a lot of time is spent with the other comedians, not a moment of their conversations ever feels wasted. DiMaggio learns a lot from his peers-turned-mentors, and if the audience pays attention to the film's uplifting message, they almost certainly will too. If you love comedy, or even just a great story, you'll come away from Where Have You Gone, Lou DiMaggio? thoroughly entertained and maybe even a little inspired to keep pursuing your own dream. 

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-Mike Stec