Stutz Review: Jonah Hill’s Cagey Netflix Doc About His Psychiatrist

Jonah Hill’s strange and poignant documentary about his therapist unfolds like a cross between “The Rehearsal” and a self-help tape.

I am a writer. When my father died, I seized on a eulogy as my best chance of coming to terms with his loss – potentially messy and selfish as it was, I could either make a spectacular display of my grief or risk it still worse eating into me than it was always going. Jonah Hill is a filmmaker (among other things), and when his older brother Jordan suffered a fatal stroke in December 2017, I suspect Hill felt a similar instinct to express himself the best way he knew how .

Likewise, I suspect that he faced a version of the same dilemma that confronts anyone who can only access their most private feelings by airing them publicly: He could only wrestle with the deeply personal devastation of his brother’s death by making a movie about it, but making a movie about it would require him to stream that devastation for the whole world to see (or at least for the disproportionately large percentage of it that subscribes to Netflix ).

And so Hill understandably tried to find a solution—a way to make a movie about his brother’s death without making a movie about his brother’s death. “Stutz” is that solution, but in a way it’s also a documentary about that solution and the tools needed to build it (the details are best left unspoiled, so let’s just say that Hill indulges in ‘ a meta element that places his film somewhere between a self-help tape and an episode of “The Rehearsal”).

Ostensibly a lo-fi profile of the funny, foul-mouthed psychiatrist Hill began seeing long before Jordan passed, “Stutz” presents itself as a film about Phil Stutz and his methods, both of which Hill loves with the kind passion someone retains for the people and things that saved their life; whatever this movie becomes, it always remains one celebrity’s heartfelt tribute to his favorite shrink. Hill sets the scene by sitting across from Stutz in his LA office and explains that he wants to film one of their sessions to share the doctor’s strategies with as many people as possible, but the process of doing so turns out to be more complicated than any of them. could think of them.

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One of the first things Hill says here is that he struggles with vulnerability and opening up—that, in keeping with the Judd Apatow bromances that launched his career, he instinctively shies away from discussing his most honest feelings. He even insists that he won’t talk about his brother on camera, which at first comes off as an improper strategy to resolve the seemingly inevitable scene in which he talks about his brother. I mean, it seems a little far-fetched that a grieving director would make a documentary about his therapist — who once lost a brother himself — not knowing that his own trauma would become part of the story. And yet “Stutz” turns out to be much more honest with itself than it first appears. The movie is barely 15 minutes old before Hill asks Stutz, “Was it a fucking horrible idea for a patient to make a movie about his therapist?”

A few moments later, the director breaks the fourth wall to answer that question himself – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he collapses the walls in on themselves in an act of controlled demolition. Any way you slice it, Hill’s artifice turns out to be interesting, even if it insists on itself in ways that distract from Stutz’s lessons (which sound great but quickly fade into a blurred terminology that means almost nothing without that he is there to help us apply it to our own lives. ).

And yet, by the time it’s over, his film makes poignant sense of why he had to rely on that setup in the first place. Both formally and explicitly, “Stutz” starts with the assumption that you have to be vulnerable to make a movie about vulnerability. At a certain point, though, it comes into focus that Hill had to turn that idea around to get anything out of it—that he had to make a movie about being vulnerable in order to become vulnerable himself. And “Stutz,” more than anything else, is a movie about the need to be vulnerable, no matter what it takes to get there.



Courtesy of Netflix

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In other words, Hill’s film is more for him than it is for us, even if it seems to contradict the stated purpose of spreading his therapist’s light. Stutz begins all of Hill’s sessions by asking him (jokingly) to “entertain me,” and Hill’s doctor is too gifted with that requisite New York sense of humor to risk taking Stutz’s command at face value. That’s not to say that “Stutz” is boring — his teachings may not translate, but the man himself has tremendous screen presence, and the doctor-patient dynamic he shares with Hill is too rich and honest for us to ever feel like we’re just watching someone else do their homework — only to say that the viewer never feels like Hill’s first priority. He seems to realize this himself in real time over the course of the film, eventually admitting to Stutz, “It doesn’t matter what people think about the movie; it only matters that we finished it together.”

It’s clear that Hill and Stutz have been through a lot of other things together, too, and anyone who’s struggled to find the right therapist is likely to envy their mutual connection. Hill may be focusing on Stutz to distract from himself, but his interest in getting to know the 74-year-old man sitting across from him feels entirely genuine. The same goes for his interest in help Stutz, to the point that I wonder if that palpable sense of two-way growth — of doctor and patient being in the shit together — is as crucial to Stutz’s method as “Part X,” “The Maze,” or any of the other tools which were given their own code names. Hill’s film is too rooted in the here-and-now to be full biodoc, but it tells us all about Stutz’s past, with archival footage illustrating stories about the psychiatrist’s childhood, his love life, his Parkinson’s disease, and so on. Hill openly frets about the difficulty of inserting Stutz’s personal story into a film that also accommodates his professional ideas (most of which refute the neutrality of traditional psychiatric care), but he does a good job of it.

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I just wish he had allowed Stutz to exercise his voice better and explore how he feels about this project. Is the doctor just going along with it because it’s a good advertisement for his brand? I doubt it very much. Stutz’s participation appears to be motivated by his very real love for Hill, but does he think making this movie will be an effective form of therapy? Is he just happy to see a patient “activate their life force?” and work their way through the maze?

It’s impossible for viewers to know; Stutz doesn’t tell us, and Hill doesn’t ask. I think, to some extent, it’s because Hill has spent enough time with the Doctor to be able to answer those questions on his own. Just like he ends up not needing to bring up his brother here because he and Stutz sure discussed him at length off camera. This movie isn’t really for us, but to the extent that it is, an invitation to rubberneck at Hill’s grief won’t be to anyone’s benefit. “Stutz” doesn’t need to convince us that Hill has found a way to make himself vulnerable, and while the director may be wrong to assume that his film is an effective tool for the psychiatrist’s specific aids, it is difficult to find a better advertisement for the overall effect they had on him.

Grade: B

“Stutz” will be available to stream on Netflix starting Monday, November 14.

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