“Stutz” is a sentimental retread through Hill’s own therapy sessions with an artistic freedom that comes with transparency about its making process. At its inception, “Stutz” is exciting but stuffy; it’s too much in its own head. The editing is distracting, seemingly cutting to Stutz after every sentence, jumping between two similar angles so you’re aware of the edits. Meanwhile, Hill’s use of Errol MorrisInterrotron camera prompts Hill to ask rhetorical questions that we clearly know he’s asked before, like “So what are the tools?” The film’s premise of Hill being an inquisitor, a reversal of the therapist-patient dynamic, begins to feel flat.
But then Hill gets honest with us, Stutz and himself. We learn about 25 minutes into the film that we have seen a fake set made to look like Stutz’s office, treated with a green screen background, for a chronologically edited shoot that is not one session, but took place over many months . Even Hill’s hair is fake, as a wig hides the much shorter haircut underneath that he wants to hide for consistency. The black and white pauses to show us everything in bracing colors before returning to the monochrome warmth of Christopher Blauvelt’s film. The editing lets images breathe for longer, and the Interrotron footage that has Hill and Stutz talking to the camera creates the natural flow it needs. The film answers the question “How do you make a documentary about your therapist?” by trusting the intuition and embracing the nuance in the process of creation – some choices and divergences here are more effective than others. But it’s liberating to have no self-judgment when he’s drafting, and it’s particularly poignant how Hill lets that inform his entire approach.
As a formal experimentation by an actor whose filmmaking talents are only the latest chapter in his Hollywood story, the documentary offers a moving reflection on Jonah Hill, The Star. Without specifically mentioning film projects or others’ names, he shares his sense of self during success and how self-worth remained elusive. His body weight brought his own stress and anxiety. At one point in “Stutz,” he holds a massive cardboard cutout of his 14-year-old self, which he calls “unwanted by the world.” Throughout, the yodeling voice of Mason Ramsey—yes, the viral young country singer—is placed inside Emile Mosseri’s atmospheric piano compositions, as if Ramsey were the voice of Hill’s inner child roaming an expanded headspace.