If you have ever been to Hollywood's Walk of Fame, most likely you've noticed the bizarre freakshow of celebrity impersonators and pop culture icons that parade up and down the street, posing for pictures with tourists, and accepting tips as their sole means of income. On any given day you're likely to see an Elvis Presley impersonator, maybe one or two Marilyn Monroes, and a whole bevy of people dressed as cartoon and comic book characters, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Hulk. But exactly who are these people that make their money, depending on who you ask, as either street performers or panhandlers? What could possible motivate someone to stand around in a foam rubber Hulk outfit in the blazing sun? Are these people quirky eccentrics, or are they human train wrecks dressed in brightly colored costumes?
Matthew Ogens' documentary Confessions of a Superhero offers a glimpse at four of the characters who on any given day can be found milling about on Hollywood Boulevard, either chasing after their dreams, or simply struggling to survive. First there is Christopher Dennis, arguably the most "famous" of these sidewalk stars, who wears a Superman costume, but is really impersonating the late actor Christopher Reeve. Dennis, who is not only a regular fixture on the Walk of Fame, but can also be spotted at places like the San Diego Comic-Con (always in costume, mind you), bears a passing resemblance to Reeve, and is a struggling actor convinced that his shot at stardom is just around the corner. Maxwell Allen--who looks a bit like George Clooney's older brother who has spent a bit too much time on the wrong end of a crack pipe--dresses up as Batman. Allen likes to talk a lot about his shady past, trying to sound like a badass (as opposed to a jackass) by alluding to all the people he's killed; and he too is looking to make it in Hollywood as an actor. Jennifer Gerht is as close to the Midwest, home-coming queen/cheerleader stereotype as you can image. She walks around dressed as Wonder Woman, while hoping to catch a break as an actress. And finally there is Joe McQueen, a black guy from the South, who came to Los Angeles, was homeless for many years, finally got up on his feet, and now dresses as the Hulk while he struggles to make it as an actor in Hollywood.
All four of the people Ogens' profiles share the common goal of wanting to be a star--although I think Jennifer and Joe would be content with simply being working actors--but thankfully, the commonalities end there. Ogen has wisely chosen to profile four people that share certain traits--as well as delusions--but who are also uniquely different. This combined with his commitment to not allow the film to degenerate into some sort of freakshow (at least no more so than it is simply by default), makes Confessions of a Superhero a surprising treat. It would be all too easy for the documentary to portray these people as whack jobs--especially Christopher Dennis and Maxwell Allen--but Ogens is careful as a filmmaker to never pass judgment on his subjects. And to be honest, he wouldn't need to go too far out of his way to make at least half of his participants look bonkers. But there's no real challenge in that, and thankfully Ogens takes the artistic high road.
Confessions of a Superhero is one of those amusing glimpses at people pursuing their dreams that is both inspiring and depressing at the same time. Not unlike American Movie, the documentary is about people who believe in themselves, but maybe more than their actual talent should allow. And that's not to say Ogens' subjects are lacking in talent, because at least in the case of Jennifer Gerht, who is seen auditioning, there is some hope. If Ogens' cast is lacking anything, it is most likely a realistic view of reality. Christopher Dennis claims to be the son of actress Sandy Dennis, despite claims to the contrary by her family, and he can come across like someone living in his own fantasy world. Allen Maxwell is...well...I'm hesitant to say anything bad, for fear I'll become one of the people he so cryptically claims to have killed. Jennifer Gerht comes across like someone who needs to realize that she is no longer the homecoming queen of Smalltown, Tennessee, and that maybe she doesn't quite have the figure she needs to make that Wonder Woman costume really work. Only Joe McQueen seems to have a solid grasp on things, as he freely admits that what he does on Hollywood Boulevard is panhandling.
Anyone looking for a ridiculous train wreck of humanity like Who Wants to Be A Superhero? is going to be disappointed by Confessions of a Superhero. That's not to say there's no wreckage to be had, because there certainly is; but the film manages to be entertaining without relying on the salacious pathetic nature of people who want to be famous.