If you’re old enough to remember John Belushi, then you probably know a lot of this story. Immensely talented funny guy. Original cast of Saturday Night Live. Hit movies Animal House and Blues Brothers. Drugs and alcohol addiction. Death at the age of 33 from an overdose at the Chateau Marmont. This new documentary from the prolific R.J. Cutler (The War Room, The Perfect Candidate) is a fairly linear telling of Belushi’s short life, beginning with his childhood as the precocious funny kid in Wheaton, Illinois, the son of an Armenian immigrant. The strength of the film is two-fold. Bill Hader voices a stash of intimate letters John wrote to his wife Judy narrating his inner turmoil as he became a star. And the filmmakers make use of some fabulous animation and a trove of long forgotten audio tapes discovered in a box in Judy’s basement to put Belushi’s genius and downfall in perspective. It all adds up to another tragic tale of fame destroying someone who lived to be famous.
The film is a warts and all telling of Belushi’s life. It includes his misogyny towards female writers at SNL and his mistreatment of people around him at times, but it also tells his sweet love story with Judy who he met in high school and remained in love with until the end. Friends and colleagues who were close with him through it all are heard in the found interviews, including Harold Ramis, Carrie Fisher, Penny Marshall, Jane Curtin, Lorne Michaels and Chevy Chase. But the one who was his bestie of all was Dan Aykroyd. They were practically brothers. The interviews were taped shortly after Belushi’s death, and everyone saw it coming but no one could do anything to avert it.
In 1978, very early in his career Belushi was headlining in the biggest show on television (SNL), starred in the #1 film in American (Animal House – at that time the highest grossing comedy of all time), and had the #1 album on the charts (The Blues Brothers’ Briefcase Full of Blues.) Four years later he was dead. He’d left SNL, struggled to find the next big movie after The Blue Brothers, and had become hopelessly addicted to coke and heroin. His death seemed all but inevitable, even to him. Belushi is a loving ode to him, a brilliant comedian with an anarchist’s sensibilities who burned too bright.
Premiers Sunday, November 22 at 9/8c on SHOWTIME.