Documentary Releases: Belushi (2020) - Reviewed

After the much ballyhooed and ill-fated 1989 John Belushi biopic Wired came and went, the notion of a definitive take on the late comic genius remained to be seen for years.  While this new documentary film aired on Showtime won’t necessarily bring finality to the man’s life and legacy, it does bring some new conversations to the table in the form of previously unaired interviews conducted with those close to his circle.  What follows, simply named Belushi, doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know but from writer-director turned documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler, the film comes forth as a well intentioned and loving tribute to the legendary comedian.

Utilizing a mixture of pre-recorded interviews with Belushi and well-known segments from his Saturday Night Live and movie stints, the film is intercut with newly rendered black-and-white animated segments recreating the man as a caricature.  While there are some video interviews here and there with some of the parties involved, most of the recollections come through audio recordings with the film cutting freely between animation and live action footage and photographs of Belushi.  Criticisms of the star’s rise and fall range from unsurprised sympathy to outright condemnation.  Though the film does indeed look upon the subject of Belushi’s meteoric rise and fall as tragic, it doesn’t pity the man either and instead tries to honor what was left behind.

Anyone familiar with the now infamous and still controversial Bob Woodward account of Belushi’s final days, which served as the basis for Wired, won’t necessarily learn anything they haven’t before other than candid anecdotes passed around from those who knew him.  Including but not limited to Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Carrie Fisher and Harold Ramis, all describe Belushi as a runaway train, immensely talented but unstoppable from his self-destructive journey into hard drug addiction ultimately leading to his untimely death.  And yet for what its worth, Belushi the film while it doesn’t answer all the questions or alter anyone’s preconceived notions of the comic it does however function as a tip of the hat to what he accomplished in the time he lived and that is enough for now.

--Andrew Kotwicki