Rarely does a movie hit you with almost every emotion. Comedies are funny, dramas are tense and sometimes upsetting, action flicks get your blood racing. Usually filmmakers are not ambitious enough to try and work totally separate emotions throughout the course of a movie. If done poorly, it can make a film almost unwatchable. But if they can pull it off, what usually transpires is an unforgettable experience. Dear Zachary pulls it off magnificently. It is a documentary that makes you laugh, makes you cry, enrages you and inspires you.
Dear Zachary is a movie that the less you know about it, the better. So I will recommend that if you are going to watch it, do not seek out any information ahead of time. It is the story of Andrew Bagby, who is a medical student on his way to becoming a family doctor. He is a jovial, gregarious late-20-something that is the ultimate best friend and good guy. However, one day Andrew is brutally gunned down in a park outside the city he is living. Shortly after his death, his girlfriend Shirley discovers that she is pregnant with Andrew’s child, who would later be named Zachary.
One of Andrew’s childhood best friends is Kurt Kuenne, who is an amateur filmmaker and makes it his mission to put together a movie about Andrew and his life for his unborn child to show Zachary what an amazing guy his dad was. Kurt packs up and travels all across the country and to England to interview all of Andrew’s family and friends from all through his life. However, what ends up happening and the film Kurt ends up making is completely different than what he set out for.
And I’ll leave it at that. As I said, if you know the rest of the story, it’s not nearly as interesting.
Kurt has a number of things going for him in this film which make it so great to watch. One is that he and Andrew, along with other friends, had been making amateur home movies since they were young kids and Andrew was always a leading character. Kurt had always been filming things throughout his life, whether it be weddings, social gatherings or other personal moments. This gave him a lot of footage to work with along with the interviews and other subsequent footage that help you get to know Andrew and see what type of person he was. Because Andrew was such an outgoing and likeable person, the camera just seems to gravitate towards him during these films. You also get to know his parents and some of his other friends and family pretty well and they are all very likeable and well-spoken.
What really made the film for me though, outside of the storyline, was how Kurt put it together. You can tell that this was a very personal story that Kurt needed to tell and you can tell he poured his soul into it. He used a very aggressive (as I’ve seen it called) editing and pacing style that kept the movie constantly moving forward. There is not a dull moment but it also doesn’t feel rushed. The only time the movie slows is when something significant happens and Kurt allows what is happening on screen to really sink in. Kurt’s voiceover narration also helps to tell the story without cheapening the visuals or emotions conveyed. And because it’s Kurt narrating in the first-person, it adds even more of a personal touch.
This is a very affecting story that will touch your heart in more ways than one. I love this movie and have watched it a few times. I’m not ashamed to admit that the first time I watched it, I laughed out loud a few times, had tears gushing down my cheeks other times and wanted to take to the streets in anger afterwards. Honestly, I still think about this movie every once and a while, especially now that I have a son of my own. I highly recommend this documentary but just know that it is not a rosy path with a storybook ending. It is currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
What do you think? Has anyone seen this movie?