Published Apr 24, 2013As evidenced by the rather ambitious and indirectly presumptive title, Alan Zweig's documentary, 15 Reasons to Live, attempts to deconstruct the human experience through broad extrapolation from a sample audience. It's a work that intends to form meaning amidst chaos, taking a very literal list of intangible identifiers—love, duty, friendship, work, solitude, and so on—and giving them a brief, thematically appropriate, anecdotal face, not unlike what Krzysztof Kieslowski did far more successfully with the Polish miniseries, The Decalogue.
Of distinction is Zweig's style or auteur projection, which is that of angst-ridden narcissism imposed on his documentary subjects. While they speak, he often interrupts and relates their stories back to himself, interrupting his own flow to tell stories about his own life, ostensibly whining about the world not understanding or appreciating him.
This self-involvement is most obvious in the segment on intoxication, wherein a young woman's decision to lose control and partake in an air show excursion with complete strangers becomes a tale of Zweig's own inability to indulge in the spirits. But in the "love" and "duty" segments, which detail a man's decision to walk around the world and the work a small group of people did to free a whale from a net, he mostly shuts up, allowing those pieces to work more effectively.
Amidst these very brief stories of stressed out mothers with painful regrets and poseur urbanite protesters, Zweig takes two of the titular "reasons" for himself, telling tales of death in friends and neighbours. The rudimentary animation and concise short story narration actually helps break up the litany of experiential examples of life unfolding, giving a bit of stylistic whimsy to what is essentially a visually dull talking heads affair.
Because the segments are fleeting, the occasional terrible example—"humour" being one—is easily ignored and forgotten once a more compelling personal yarn comes along to fill the mostly superficial void.
Nothing about 15 Reasons to Live holds up to its ambitious title in any sense but the accessible, well-paced format does work in a Chicken Soup for the Soul sort of way, appealing in a very twee, broad sense. (Kinosmith)