Filmmaker Ira Wohl has a mentally retarded cousin, Philly. At
a family reunion one year, he realized that Philly's parents still take
care of his every need, even though they are in their 70's and Philly is
over 50. Realizing that someday Philly wouldn't have his parents
to rely on, Ira convinces his aunt and uncle to help train Philly to be
more independent. Ira filmed his cousin attempts to become more self-reliant
and the result was the Academy Award winning film, Best Boy (1979.)
His parents enroll him in a training center where he spend the days learning simple life skills like how to cross the street or how to buy food at a restaurant. He slowly learns to do simple things, and even manages to buy an ice cream sandwich by himself. But Philly's growth is as hard for his parents as it is for him. They aren't used to being away from him, and it is a hard adjustment for them too.
This is a very touching and heartwarming film. You can see the way that Philly's condition has worn his parents down. Taking care of their son day in and day out has adversely affected both of his parents, but they still love him dearly. Phillip's cheerful and upbeat attitude is infectious, and this movie is not sad and depressing, just the opposite; Philly's journey to becoming more self-reliant is a moving and enlightening experience. This movie is a strong argument for mainstreaming the mentally handicapped.
The film has a two channel mono soundtrack with no subtitles available. The sound is flat and thin, but that is to be expected with a 25-year-old documentary. Most of the dialog is easy to understand, though sometimes the background noises get in the way. This is an acceptable sounding movie.
The full frame video looks like it is a blow up from a 16mm print. It is grainy and a little soft, with a few specks and other minor print damage. The colors are a little muted, but not to a large extent. Some of the scenes are a little dark. Still, the film looks nice when you take into account its age and the conditions that it was filmed under.
This disc also included a text piece about the filmmaker, along with text descriptions and a couple of trailers to some of Docurama's other films.
The biggest extra though is the full-length sequel to Best Boy: Best Man. This film was made 20 years later, and in it you get to see how Philly has fared in the intervening years. With both of his parents gone, Philly is living in a group home for adult with mental handicaps, which is quite nice. Phillip is still his happy and upbeat, and his sister Fran visits him often. Philly's cousin (filmmaker Ira Wohl) decides to give the now 72-year-old Philly a Bar Mitzvah. The film chronicles Philly's preparations for this passage into manhood.
While this film is interesting, it does not have the emotional punch that Best Boy has. The film seems less focused, and it is obvious that Wohl is trying to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. Seen after Best Boy, this movie is a nice update, but it does not stand well on its own.
This was a good set. Though I was disappointed in the sequel, Best Man, watching the original film from 1979 is an enriching and heartwarming experience. It is a well-constructed documentary that is definitely recommended.