Whimsical documentaries about quirky people and oddball areas of life are nothing if not common on the indie film circuit. For a while, Confessions of a Superhero looks to be very typical of the genre—mildly interesting, mildly amusing, decent but nothing terrific. The farther it went along, however, the more I was drawn in. I ended up liking it quite a bit.
I think it does a little better job than most such documentaries at getting inside its subjects through interviews, showing them to be real people and not just peculiar folks that fit into a certain category that fits the theme of the film. It spoke to the part of me that loves doing personal history films and interviewing people about their lives.
It’s kind of like The Grace Lee Project where the gimmick falls away and I’m more focused on the interviewees as people, but it’s a bit more entertaining and interesting than that movie. It’s not quite as deep as Protagonist, and it’s substantially less dark. It’s at least as intriguing as The Big Bang, but it doesn’t spread itself as thin by interviewing so many people.
Confessions of a Superhero is a documentary about the costumed characters who parade up and down Hollywood Boulevard, bumming money to pose for photos with people. (As it happens, I encountered a bunch of those characters a few years ago on a trip to LA, so I was familiar with the practice, which maybe made me feel a little more connected to this movie. I got a picture with Elmo, and some nice video footage of me getting cozy with Marilyn Monroe. Elmo openly asked for a tip. Marilyn didn’t, and I almost felt like I had to chase her down and push her to take a couple bucks.)
They have a mixed reputation among the locals, the businesses on the street, and law enforcement. Some like them fine, some are neutral, and some regard them as nuisances that they wish would go away. Overall I’d say the negative reactions outweigh the positive. Multiple people in the movie dismiss them as panhandlers.
I gather from this movie that they all pretty much act as free agents. There doesn’t seem to be any organization to it, like they’re working for someone. Evidently people just don a costume and show up, and the veterans maybe mentor them a bit in the beginning to show them the ropes, teach them what they can and can’t legally do, and so on. There aren’t even any formal or informal rules about not duplicating an existing character. There are multiple Marilyn Monroes, Elvises, etc.
Though there’s occasional footage of others, the film focuses on four characters, and to a lesser extent some of their significant others or family members. All consider themselves actors, and are to varying degrees trying to move up from being street performers to being in movies and TV shows.
Superman is sort of the dean of the street characters, having been doing this for over a decade. The son of a celebrity, he seems like a genuinely nice guy. When one of the Marilyn Monroes complains bitterly about being undertipped by cheap tourists, he gently reminds her that tipping is always optional. Equally gently, he advises a newcomer amongst his costumed brethren not to be seen smoking in costume, as it is not befitting the dignity of the characters.
He seems pretty happy doing what he’s doing. He has an interest in Superman and related characters similar to that of a nerdy Trekkie into all things Star Trek, collecting all the memorabilia and figurines and such. He’s very much in his element when he gets to be Superman. He’s fine with whatever money he happens to get (they can make anywhere from about $10 an hour to over $100 an hour, depending on how lucky they get with tips).
For that matter none of the four is particularly self-conscious about what they’re doing or down on what they’re doing. They don’t talk about hating it, they aren’t quick to let everyone know they’re only doing it for the money, they don’t talk about how they can’t wait to not have to do it anymore. It’s not their dream (though it comes closest for Superman), and they’re still wanting to be stars and working on that, but it’s not like they hate themselves and what they’re doing.
Batman is a George Clooney-looking guy from Texas. He admits to having a violent temper, and apparently has some sort of dark and violent past, if not present, working for the Mob.
He goes to his appointments with his shrink dressed in the Batman outfit, by the way. Maybe that’s just as a stunt for the movie, but I got the impression he genuinely does that in real life. Perhaps he just feels better able to open up if he retains some degree of anonymity.
The Incredible Hulk is a simple black man from North Carolina who hopped on a bus and showed up in LA basically penniless to seek his fortune. He’s the only one of the four whose costume includes a head piece that covers his whole head. Reportedly it can get up to 130 degrees inside the costume, and on one occasion he passes out. He doesn’t have quite the confidence and presence of Superman, but he is similarly mild-mannered.
Wonder Woman is the classic big fish in a small pond, a young girl from a hick town in Tennessee who dominated there and now fancies herself ready for something bigger and better. Her parents gush about how it was apparent from the beginning that she’d be a big star one day (they talk about it as if that’s now happened). She was the socially very popular, homecoming queen, hottest girl at her high school type.
And now she’s a dime a dozen in Hollywood. In fact, no doubt many would consider her looks not even at that level compared to the typical wannabe starlets of her age floating around LA (she’s buxom to put it positively, which means by current standards of beauty she’s a bit fat).
Not that that’s my assessment, by the way. I’m not saying she’s a 10, but she’s way, way hot enough for me. I have zero complaints about how she fills out that Wonder Woman costume.
She’s likable across the board in fact, not just good to look at, though she can be a bit impulsive and impatient in a girly way, pretty much as you’d expect of someone her age who, back home at least, was always treated as being on the exalted “hot girl” level.
What’s well done about the movie is that as we get to know the four main characters, and information is doled out gradually, mostly in interview clips, at first it’s pretty conventional, maybe even at times bland, stuff, but then things get deeper, juicier tidbits are dropped in, and fuller pictures emerge, in some cases casting into doubt what the characters had said about themselves earlier.
Yet it’s never extreme. It’s not like it slingshots you from thinking one thing about the characters to later thinking the opposite. Or it’s not like there’s one “big secret” revealed that changes the nature of the movie.
It’s more gradual and subtle in sending the message that maybe things aren’t quite what they seem in some respects, maybe there’s some complexity to these folks that wasn’t apparent earlier.
Is Superman really related to a celebrity? Is Batman hiding a much more extreme criminal past than he hinted about earlier? Or, in the opposite direction, does he have no substantial criminal past and is just inventing and exaggerating as he goes along? Did they all just stumble upon this reasonably well-paying gig as soon as they hit LA, or did they go through significant struggles? Do the ones who seem more or less happy with where their lives are have negative stuff going on that they didn’t mention earlier? Have any of them already achieved any acting success to speak of? Are any of them recognized by anyone other than themselves and their parents as having that potential?
In one and perhaps two cases, there’s reason to suspect significant mental illness.
Over time, all four become likable and interesting individuals, beyond their odd way of making a living. At first The Incredible Hulk drew me in the least, but then some stuff is revealed about him that deepens him as a character. In the end Batman became the least appealing to me.
In looking at some of the reviews of this movie, some of the people who liked it (and most critics did) treat it as an enjoyable comedy about some lovable losers. Like, isn’t it funny that people like this could actually be delusional enough to think they could make it in Hollywood? And isn’t it cute the way they’re plucky enough to hold onto their dreams even when from the outside we can see they’ll never be anything more than glorified panhandlers?
Only to a small extent did Confessions of a Superhero strike me that way, though. I don’t find their pursuit of their dreams all that pitiful or laughable. They want to be world famous movie stars, and so if you say that the fraction of 1% of such dreamers who achieve that level of success are winners, and the rest are all losers fit for ridicule, then, yeah, I suppose they’re losers.
But to me they’re just real people. If you don’t measure them by that peculiar standard, they’re fine. They have their good points and bad points, their virtues and vices. One or two might have some mental issues. Compared to the average of the human race, I don’t know that I would rank this group of four all that poorly in intelligence, in contentment, or in how well they treat the people in their lives. And in terms of their willingness to aim high, and to take risks and make sacrifices to go after what they want, I’d have to say they’re pretty darn admirable.
I wish them well. For the most part I think they’re good people, at least more so than laughingstocks. I enjoyed this movie, because I enjoyed getting to know them (especially Wonder Woman and her Wonder Rack).