SPECIALish kicks off with comedian Jessica Watkins setting forth on a cross country stand-up tour… on foot. Watkins, who also directs, begins her trek in Delaware and will wander all the way to San Francisco. While others attempting such an odyssey would harbor reasons of finding themselves, Watkins is upfront that the trip is all for the jokes. However, as the miles and months kick by, she begins to learn more about herself than she ever envisioned.
From severe knee fatigue to a family crisis, Watkins’ walk is a battle from the start. The trip alone is a brutal nine months but paired with performing comedy every few nights takes a different kind of toll on the comedian. As with many inspirational or “carpe diem” documentaries, the more the comedian begins to break down physically, the more she reflects on her own life emotionally. Confronting her strained relationships, self-worth and surviving a sexual assault at fifteen, Watkins puts her vulnerability on full display.
“…comedian Jessica Watkins [sets] forth on a cross country stand-up tour… on foot.”
SPECIALish has a great premise. The idea of someone walking coast-to-coast is more than enough to get me excited for the story. Pairing this harrowing expedition with having to prepare and perform stand-up only raises the stakes. The road offers several great stories from Jessica Watkins’ perspective, both comedically and emotionally. Beyond the anecdotes, her moments of clarity are moving. In fact, the documentary is comparable to My First and Last Film, in so far as it is more about the emotional or spiritual quest than the physical.
Despite moments of captivating emotion and empathy, the film does have several hang-ups. The movie blurs the line between inspirational, dark comedy, struggle for gender equality, and surviving sexual assault at an overwhelming pace. These topics all occur in a single narrative, which means the rate at which the tone shifts is enough to give you whiplash.
On the premise alone, I wanted to like SPECIALish. In fact, truth be told, I wanted to love it. I enjoy inspiring leaps into the unknown; I get a sense of adventure in documentaries like this. Such productions as this thrive on moments of clarity within the person and the viewer; it’s almost bonding. Despite a few resonant, emotional moments, the documentary never delivers the payoff it promises. Even Wakins admits to the lack of conclusion in the closing moments. Between the lack of finality and the shifts in emotions, I could never get beyond the surface level.
"…offers several great stories from Jessica Watkins' perspective, both comedically and emotionally."