Starring: Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh
Directed By: Todd Bieber
Synopsis: An look into comedy teacher Del Close and his influence on the art form of improvisational comedy.
Final Grade: C-
Recommended For Those Who Like: American: The Bill Hicks Story, That’s Not Funny
Hit the jump for the full review
Positives: Improvisational comedy, or Improv, is an unusual medium. While some might casually define it as a comedy “made up on the spot” Thank You Del Close: The Story of the Del Close Marathon does an excellent job of educating audiences about the depth of this art form. On a base level, Thank You Del Close, provides a cursory overview of Improv, tracing its history and influencers over the course of several generations. The evolution of this comedy is rather interesting, and director Todd G. Bieber wisely allows both performers and directors reflect on its past. Perhaps even more interesting is what Improv means to various cultures. While in the U.S. modern Improv typically involves a series of games to setup interactions, Improv in other countries can be more focused on story-telling or character development. While the goal is always to make the audience laugh, it is intriguing to understand more about the different interpretations of this pursuit.
Negatives: While Thank You Del Close covers an interesting topic, the man at that the center of topic is less so. Throughout the documentary, Del Close, often referred to as the creator of long-form Improv, is both lauded and revered as well as shunned and discredited. While it is fascinating to hear sound bites from the likes of comedic greats such Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Amy Poheler (the latter of whom is one of the founders of the Del Close marathon, an annual Improv comedy festival), the actual film lacks a cohesive arc with enough relative depth to truly understand if Del Close was genius, and if yes, then why?
Expanding upon this further, Thank You Del Close also lacks a singular story that audiences can connect with. Beiber tries to weave together three related narratives: who Del Close was as a person, the history of the now-popular marathon, and few specific Improv groups experiencing the festival for the first time. The result is that there is no real culmination or journey. Instead, Thank You Del Close feels more like a series of lessons that doesn’t quite make the case for why one should care about the topics. Given the controversy surrounding the man as expressed in the movie some may find it tough to walk away from the film agreeing with the notion that Close has been neglected by history.
The narrative thread focused on the marathon, and those engaging with it, is also disappointing for one major reason—the clips included in the documentary aren’t that funny. Beiber spends too much time backstage or at marathon parties and delivers less by way of great on-stage performances. Thank You Del Close would have been more successful had it paired together a specific elements of Close’s teaching with a strong examples of his philosophy realized through performance.
Overall: Thank You Del Close: The Story of the Del Close Marathon covers an interesting with a few moments of great insight, but its lack of cohesion, wavering critique of the subject, and inconsistent depth make it only appeal to diehard fans of the craft.
Final Grade: C-