39 POUNDS OF LOVE

Anyone who finds themselves in a situation of feeling sorry for themselves should check out the documentary “39 Pounds of Love.” If there is one film which makes the most out of life, this is it.

The subject of “39 Pounds of Love” is Ami Ankilewitz, a Texas-born Israeli artist who works in 3D animation. Ankilewitz was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and when he was one-year-old a doctor informed his mother he would not live to six.

Ankilewitz turns 34 as the film opens. While he only weighs 39 pounds, is wheelchair-bound and needs a special Madonna-style head microphone to amplify his voice, he is not one given to self-pity. Sporting Harley-Davidson tattoos, a large circle of friends and a fondness for hedonism’s finest (Jack Daniels and thick cigars are his vices of choice), Ankilewitz lives the high life. When it appears his pretty live-in nurse/companion is not sharing the same level of affection that he has for her, he asks her to leave!

Much of “39 Pounds of Love” follows Ankilewitz on a trip across the United States in an RV driven by his best friend Asaf (whose rock star long hair and movie star good looks would suggest he is worthy of his own movie). Ankilewitz wants to achieve three goals: to reconcile with his estranged brother Oscar, who lives in Dallas, to meet the doctor who told his mother he would not live past six, and to ride a Harley.

Ankilewitz spices the film via a series of humorous computer animated sequences he created. These sequences feature a clumsy but lovable bird that seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to its creator. The bird gets involves in mild slapstick situations, but ultimately finds a way to achieve some hitherto elusive goals. Ankilewitz’s artwork is magnificent and it would be wonderful if he can make a feature film based on his animation.

In its goal to present a feel-good story, the film occasionally jumps over issues that are not easily explained away: the circumstances that lead to his parents’ divorce (this is cited in the press kit but not the film), the absence of another sibling (also cited in the press kit but omitted from the film), and the period after Ankilewitz takes ill at the Grand Canyon (he is seen being carried back to the RV and a pair of park rangers point the way to the nearest hospital, but in the next scene he is back to normal).

Yet the absence of the darker elements to the story is more than compensated by Ankilewitz’s genuine wit and charm. He gamely models a variety of wacky hats at a novelty shop and banters with a shopgirl who happily models S&M gear (when asked if he enjoys sex, Ankilewitz deadpans: “Who doesn’t?”). When he views the baroque knocker on the apartment door of his pessimistic pediatrician, he remarks drolly: “It looks like the House of Dracula.” And when a party on his RV includes too many reprises of “La Cucharacha,” he looks on in horror and proclaims: “I hate that song!” As far as I am concerned, Ami Ankilewitz is the movie star of the year.

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