AFI Fest: Belushi Review

Covering the life of famed comedian John Belushi from 1968 to his death in 1982, director R.J. Cutler uses previously unheard audiotapes recorded shortly after his death to examine who John Belushi was backstage. 

I feel that much could have been done with the film’s editing while still covering the 14 or so years highlighted in the film. Much of the documentary’s time is devoted to Belushi’s friends (the biggest being Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, and Ivan Reitman) talking about what he was like while we see related images or video onscreen. This is most likely due to Cutler’s stylistic choice, but I just don’t understand it.

While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about Cutler’s direction here. Do you remember how Apollo 11 integrated archival footage into archival recordings of the launch? Belushi is doing something similar. Except that it doesn’t invoke the same feelings as that documentary did. Cutler simply spends way too much time in the Saturday Night Live era of his life that by the time we get to truly know what John Belushi was like in his final years, it feels like Cutler racing to the finish line, rather than taking his time and getting there. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only time this happens. Cutler routinely takes these massive detours like looking at Chevy Chases’ time on SNL and had me scratching my head every time these detours occur. 

What’s unfortunate is that this film oozes style. Whether it’s animated recreations of Belushi’s life, Bill Hader narrating (!) his letters to his wife, or the jazzy soundtrack, the film takes every opportunity to stand out from a crowd of documentaries. However, I feel a real pull of Cutler to shift away from that stylistic choice to a more straightforward documentary as the film goes on.

At the end of the day, how much you enjoy Belushi is completely up to how much of a fan you are of John Belushi and his work.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Belushi will be available on Showtime starting on November 22nd.