Sunday, January 1, 2017


          If Werner Herzog made a documentary on the making of this documentary, that would have been interesting.

          Minimalism--A Documentary About the Important Things starts off with famous images of customers trampling over each other in department stores trying buy things the day after Thanksgiving. "We get so wrapped up in the hunt," one of the film's speakers informs us, "that it kind of makes us miserable."

          Images of traffic jams. Images of smog-filled urban skylines.

          "I was living for a paycheck," another speaker says, "living for stuff. But I wasn't living at all."

          An expert tells us we are biologically-based for delusionary craving. That we're wired for dissatisfaction. That empty consumerism is an addiction. That advertising has polluted our culture.

          Hands clasped with laced fingers before our misty eyes, we await some sort of wisdom. Because these things we already know.

          Then we get to the movie's crux: A couple of guys with something for sale.

          Calling themselves The Minimalists, Josh and Ryan seek radio and TV gigs on a book promotion tour where they preach about not needing things as much as they used to. Doing this works out pretty good for them. Got them a movie on Netflix and everything.

          About as sincere and as necessary as a Super Sale, Minimalism reminds us of the adage, "Those who speak do not know, those who know do not speak."

          What Josh and Ryan have to tell us is that painful experiences growing up made them so excessively materialistic that they burned out, and have now turned being burned out to their advantage. It's one of those rare film experiences that puts doing the right thing in the wrong light.

          Abject transients have almost no voice in Minimalism. One scene at a speaking gig in Las Vegas--Josh and Ryan head to a book festival with big Starbucks coffees in hand--shows a listener, perhaps best described as authentic, briefly taking the two to task. Then he gets a hug and they move on. Primarily though, the filmmakers choose to ignore those with the most minimalism, the real ripe cases, focusing instead on career-oriented talking heads pushing their own personal product. Designers of mini-homes, for example.

          It's not "A Documentary About the Important Things" as the trite title claims. Nor is it even a documentary, because it doesn't explore anything. A better title might have simply been Less. And a better approach would be to analyze the subject, beginning perhaps with Buddhism.

          But no.

          Instead, Minimalism is as fluffy and hollow as the empty consumerism against which it preaches. What the subject of doing more with less deserves is serious substance. Unfortunately, delivering a quality documentary is where Minimalism proves most minimal.

Starring Joshua Becker,
Ryan Nicodemus,
Dan Harris,
Joshua Fields Millburn,
Shannon Whitehead
Directed by Matt D'Avella
Runtime 79 minutes

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