It's tempting to be skeptical of I Am, filmmaker Tom Shadyac's quest for knowledge and enlightenment. He became filthy rich directing goofy comedies (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, etc.), bought bigger and bigger mansions, first in Beverly Hills and then a behemoth 17,000-square-foot place in Pasadena, Calif., and then suffered a cycling accident that left him with a severe concussion and dangerous complications. Once healthy, he set out to find out what matters in life.
In pursuing his great questions, he interviews brilliant scientists (David Suzuki), philosophers, religious leaders (Desmond Tutu), political scientists (Noam Chomsky) and psychologists (Dacher Keltner). It's funny to watch historian Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States) apologetically draw a complete blank when asked if he had seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
Shadyac is a talented director, and the eye candy in the film is endlessly riveting as he traipses through natural wonders, societal calamities (including post-Hurricane Katrina flooding of New Orleans) and file footage of war and Civil Rights struggles. It's hard to rub off the New Age-y shine from some of the brief interludes with big thoughts. But to his credit, Shadyac diligently questions the limits and insights of scientific knowledge, common economic assumptions, religious inspiration and psychology. He questions whether materialism is in fact a mental illness and chronicles the behavior of other species that are arguably much more democratic than humans. And he explores unexplained phenomena that at the very least suggest we have only begun to understand the natural world. Even without answering many questions, he is certain people can both be happier with their lives and better to one another. His journey and film are infectiously positive. — Will Coviello
Opens May 27
Chalmette Movies, 8700 W. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette, 304-9992; www.chalmettemovies.com