Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"This film strikes one of those wonderful paradoxes, being simultaneously about holding on and letting go."

It may start like a slightly scrappy miscellany, with what feels like far too much voice-over, but don’t be put off by the first few minutes of this latest documentary from Chris Wilcha, which builds to a surprisingly affecting meditation on ageing, what we mean by accomplishment and the memories we collect, and lose, along the way. Even its dad-rock vibe is fitting, since the closer to middle age you are, the deeper the note it is likely to strike with you.

In some ways, it’s a celebration of failure, or at least an acknowledgement of it, as Wilcha outlines how after a flush of first success as a documentarian with The Target Shoots First back in 2020, he slipped into the realm of advertising and sort of got stuck there - if you can call having a healthy bank balance with which to raise your kids getting stuck. He outlines some of the projects he started on but never got finished, including a documentary about jazz photographer Herman Leonard, who was terminally ill at the time, another on Starlee Kine’s attempts to write a book and a third about a doomed Ira Glass project - although he did make a successful series along the way. Snippets of those, along with a relegated-to-DVD extra about Judd Apatow, who produces this film, and some of his commercial work also pepper the movie, which is edited with almost strafe-like speed by Claire Ave'Lallemant and Joe Beshenkovsky. Its chief driver, however, is a film that Wilcha intended to make about second hand store Flipside Records in New Jersey.

Wilcha had nostalgia for Flipside because it was where he had worked as a teen, not to mention the place he probably first made out. It’s run by Dan Dondiego, who he re-encounters after returning home to finally sort through some childhood clutter. This is another way that Wilcha is likely to catch hold of you, as his film is also a love letter to the packrat that most of us have in us somewhere. That part of us that just can’t resist squirrelling away ticket stubbs, school books, or that T-shirt we loved even though we’ll never fit back in it. Even Wilcha’s dad is shown to have a collection of AOL discs and a penchant for half-inching hotel soap.

Dan’s packrat tendencies are more pronounced than most people's, and he loves his record store in ways that a new streamlined second hand place that’s opened up nearby could never compete with. But he’s fiercely analogue in his approach, just one of the things that Wilcha will start to ruminate on as his film gathers pace. As Wilcha shoots in the store - a project that gets stalled at one point for a decade - he also encounters the wonderful Uncle Floyd, who Wilcha had first come across as a kid on a local cable show at the end of the dial. Floyd is larger than life, so perfect for this sort of documentary, but he’s also illustrative of the way that you never know in what way you might leave your mark - as unlikely as it may sound, Floyd has been immortalised by a David Bowie record.

This film strikes one of those wonderful paradoxes, being simultaneously about holding on and letting go. Leonard is saying goodbye to this world in many ways but he speaks strongly about the need for patience and the fact that “I just kept at it till I got it”. Wilcha may be feeling a catharsis about shedding some stuff but he shows that unwilling loss of memory is a different matter, through encounters with NYPD Blue and Deadwood creator David Milch, who was the driving force behind the intended documentary about his friend Leonard and who now has Alzheimer’s.

Wilcha’s narration continues to be a bit on the flowery side but the plus side is that you can really feel his investment in all of these crazy, equally cluttered and paradoxical lives. There’s heartbreak here but his film is also bursting with creativity, while unexpectedly championing acts of love both big and small - and that’s never something to be flip about.

Reviewed on: 16 Sep 2023
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A comical attempt to save a New Jersey record store and confront a mid-life crisis

Director: Christopher Wilcha

Writer: Joe Beshenkovsky, Adam Samuel Goldman, Christopher Wilcha

Year: 2023

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: US

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