Being There, Coming Home, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Harold and Maude were some of the best films of the New Hollywood of the ‘70s, all directed by one of the least celebrated filmmakers of that era. Until now.
The straight-to-the-point plotline of the documentary, Kelly’s Hollywood – in which a young man helps his sister with Down Syndrome taste a little of the fame and adulation that she yearns for – suggests a feel-good charmer with heart and warmth to burn. And while this doco certainly has that in spades, it also offers much, much more, along with a number of thematic detours that hit with an unexpected wallop. The fact that the film is directed by the young man in question, Brian Donovan, affords an extraordinary level of intimacy; indeed, the film is so personal, and its connection to its subject so deep, that you occasionally question whether you should actually have the right to be allowed into its very singular world. The powerful emotions provoked by this generous invitation, however, are nothing short of staggering.
A jobbing actor from the sleepy surrounds of Buffalo, New York, Brian Donovan would eventually find fame via voicing every kid’s favourite taijutsu hero, Rock Lee, in the popular anime series, Naruto, as well as playing the character of Davis in the equally popular hit, Digimon. Before getting there, he appeared in a host of small film and TV roles while grinding out an on-screen living in Los Angeles. With him every step on his journey to fame was his younger sister, Kelly, who was born with Down Syndrome. She too dreams of being in the spotlight, and Brian helps her get there by staging Kelly’s own starring vehicle at a Hollywood theatre.
The extraordinary relationship shared by Brian and Kelly, however, is not all sunshine and flowers. Utterly co-dependent (a fact that Brian fully acknowledges and is totally aware of), their iron-strong bond works to the exclusion of his romantic partners, with Brian’s ex-girlfriends (some of whom are bravely and candidly interviewed) often left in Kelly’s dust. But when he meets charming Aussie writer and former Home And Away star, Tempany Deckert, Brian’s relationship with Kelly is really put to the test.
This is territory rarely glimpsed on screen before, as we see how difficult a relationship with a family member with special needs can be, and not in the usual ways. Kelly and Tempany almost battle in a romantic way for Brian’s attention, which is deeply troubling and utterly heartbreaking. Brian doesn’t deny being complicit in this fraught psychodrama either, copping to a major case of “hero complex and Peter Pan Syndrome.” Boundaries quickly crumble and blur at an alarming yet. Donovan’s bravery in putting this dilemma on screen is unquestionable and admirable, as is his refusal to shy away from his sister’s romantic needs. Kelly develops intense fantasy fixations (which Brian fully indulges) on a variety of unattainable men, from David Hasselhoff, The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb and Colin Firth through to a number of supervisors at her workplace. It’s often uncomfortable to watch, but Donovan wants to depict his sister in her entirety, and this is a vital aspect of her personality, as is her constant attention-seeking and keen facility for manipulation. She’s an amazing and loveable person, but Donovan doesn’t take the easy canonisation route, and the film is all the richer for that.
Kelly’s Hollywood, however, is still a feel-good, three-hanky weepy of the first order. Brian and Kelly Donovan are truly fascinating and incredibly likeable people, and their unconventional relationship is the stuff of great cinema. You’ll likely never see anything quite like it again.
Ad pitch: Mugabe sits in his empty palatial dining room reminiscing about the friends he’s lost. Friends such as Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. As the soundtrack of Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days reaches its crescendo, we’re reminded that no one should have to eat alone. The product? Nando’s 6 pack meal deal, obviously.
This is one of the many near knuckle marketing campaigns headed by the chicken restaurant that’s seen them become one of the most well-known brands in South Africa. The documentary Pluck compiles a selection of their best and worst campaigns in order to paint an alternative political history of the country, whilst those behind the brand talk about the real-world events that shape their creativity.
Let’s be honest, any documentary that focuses solely on a company’s legacy – particularly one which they’ve given their blessing to – is in danger of being indulgent from the beginning. Thankfully, Pluck manages to fall on the right side of back-slapping. Created in 1987, the Johannesburg franchise dropped into a political landscape that was – and still is – deeply complicated. Poking fun at the establishment wasn’t just a way to get noticed. For many at Nando’s it was about defusing tension. And if they sell a bit of peri peri sauce, then so much the better. In fact, one creative remembers that he got so involved in holding a mirror up to the society that they realised three ads into their campaign that they hadn’t actually mentioned any of the products they were selling.
Amidst the lampooning and caricatures, Pluck reminds the viewer of what could be at stake. Whilst Nando’s copped its fair share of viewer complaints, with ads involving blind people and, at one point, a certain Uruguayan rugby team trying to stay alive, they could also incur the wrath of the politicians that they mocked. The aforementioned Mugabe ad resulted in threats of violence and death being aimed at staff in Zimbabwe, whilst the then leader of the African National Congress Youth League, Julius Malema took great offence to being portrayed as a literal political puppet, going so far as to demand a face to face apology.
Naturally, everything is a product of its time and some adverts will likely raise a quizzical eyebrow with their attitudes towards gender. In particular, it’s hard to fully rally for the ad exec who claims the stereotypically camp gay couple used in his campaign was championed by his LGBT friends who were just thankful for the representation. Thankfully, other talking heads are more candid when it comes to their company’s more problematic moments.
While its message of laughter is the best medicine and everyone is equal in the eyes of comedy is nothing ground-breaking, as an independent documentary, Pluck indeed wins for its approach to one of history’s more splintered political arenas.