Are your less than movie-star quality looks hampering your climb to fame and fortune? Is your inability to properly schmooze the powers that be holding you back? Are psychological demons and/or lack of skills keeping you down? Well, Wesley Willis is morbidly obese, talks strangely, compulsively bumps people in the head and the man is a genuine rock star…. even though his musical and songwriting ability is all but nonexistent by any normal standard. And forget your silly little metaphorical “demons,” poor Wesley’s days are haunted by the real thing because he suffers from severe chronic schizophrenia.
Hailing from the ghetto streets of Chicago, Wesley Willis just may be the ultimate self-made man. He’s turned some of the most severe liabilities you could imagine into assets. Hipsters from coast to coast can’t get enough of the singular musical stylings of this oddly compelling rock messiah and artist who’s musical oeuvre largely focuses on such burning issues as oral-anal contact with marsupials, home visits from Ronald Reagan and revenge fantasies against Spiderman. Sure, a lot of that adulation is ironic and possibly a little unpleasant – but the man has a career!
This good-natured, compassionate, disturbing but somewhat slow and under-ambitious documentary follows Willis to Denver for a brief tour date and visits with his large number of surprisingly devoted friends. Interestingly, it was financed by a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts – I’d like to see the NEA sponsor a documentary about the singer/songwriter of “Suck on a Dog’s Dick”!
The only problem here is that Willis’s life brings up a number of questions that Daniel Bitton’s documentary only glances across. Emerging from a nightmarish childhood only to be throttled by an illness that causes his own brain to torture him, Willis is nevertheless welcomed into the homes of white hipsters who show real affection for him. As one friend of Willis takes pains to point out, that’s vastly different from the armies of under-served mentally ill that live out painful, deeply lonely existences on the streets of every large city in America. What made him so (relatively) lucky? And what’s the story with that oddly hostile young private investigator who escorts Willis around through part of the film? (The guy may look normal, but his own weirdness may go even deeper than Willis’s.)
I don’t know, but what one thing is sure: Wesley Willis may not exactly produce the world’s most listenable music, he might be ugly as sin and he sure makes airline employees nervous, but there’s at least one more decent documentary in the guy.