Jonah Hill’s therapy documentary Stutz would be another misguided Hollywood approach to mental health - it even comes with a charismatic guru figure - if it weren’t for the sincerity of its intentions and Hill’s willingness to not only question himself but give his audience a peek behind the curtain into his process, in terms of both coping mechanisms and filmmaking. This is what makes Stutz truly golden.
It still shouldn’t work though. Even if Hill intentions are good, even if he’s clearly attempting to be as honest as he can, even if he’s all in on his stated mission on bringing the tools he’s learned to better his health to a wider audience, even if he sincerely loves filmmaking, even if he’s trying to be as transparent as possible, even if his therapist Phil Stutz is likewise all in in every sense, both in terms of mission and co-writing.
Their relationship is the antithesis of what we’re told therapy is supposed to be, and instead they’ve developed a genuine friendship where they good naturedly dish out crap and tell the other they love them.
Needless to say, it’s not a professional approach as we would traditionally understand it, but it is clearly based on mutual respect, with questions encouraged and mutual honesty at the heart of it all.
Bypassing cynicism is an accomplishment in itself, but there’s also a dark history that’s neatly sidestepped as well, of the darkly magnetic charlatan who ingratiates himself with the vulnerable rich, only to shatter promises of enlightenment with exploitation, abuse, and in some cases, bloodshed.
It’s a precarious balance to maintain, since Stutz openly says the phrase therapists and those who see them have been trained to avoid: “Here’s what you should do.” Yes, Stutz openly proclaims he tells his patients what course of action to take, and he has no worries whatsoever about giving bad advice.
And since he accepts this movie is about him, it’s hard to argue with his reasons - namely, that he stepped up as his parents’ therapist after the death of his brother as a child and has since made it his calling to improve lives rather than hovering at the edge of them.
As the two men trade stories, Hill less so out of his stated intent of trying to maintain focus on the man who’s helped him, they allow viewers to see the world they’ve created, from the green screen to the passage of time, which folds and bends as they film throughout the months. That it won’t be for everyone is a given, but it’ll be impossible to deny the affection that’s grown between both men.
As the film finds its footing and the editing flows smoother between conversations and Stutz’s note cards, which provide simple but helpful visuals of the techniques he’s built his career on, Hill also shares more about himself and his struggles to find a sense of stability that remained elusive despite his astronomical success, even bringing out a cardboard cutout of himself to demonstrate the point where he felt he was at his lowest mentally.
But both men struggle with what is basically an impossible task, attempting to duplicate the innately personal experience that is therapy to a wide audience.
Stutz has plenty of buzzworthy, social media friendly names for his methodology, with The Tools, X, and The Shadow bound to stick for those searching for quick and ready solutions. But neither man pretends to have answers that raise too many red flags, such as promises of cleansing oneself completely of life’s inescapable pain and problems.
Yet what Hill and Stutz do manage to accomplish is as undeniable as their sincerity, which transcends a process that is bound to be messy and flawed.
What they’re clearly hoping to do is give others a chance at what’s worked wonders for them, and it’s no small thing to attempt to break such barriers.
Rating: 9/10 SPECS
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