REVIEW: Seymour: An Introduction

15 03 2015

Look no further, all those who wander aimlessly and wonder what the true meaning of life is, for Ethan Hawke seems pretty sure he has found it.  In “Seymour: An Introduction,” his first effort as a documentarian, Hawke profiles a former pianist and current piano instructor, octogenarian Seymour Bernstein.  But this is hardly a movie about music; the real subject is how to lead a wholesome life in the pursuit of art.

Hawke, after apparently hitting a wall of frustration in his acting, found renewed purpose from hearing the work and teachings of Seymour.  He mostly removes himself from the film, though Hawke does appear from time to time to gush ecstatic praises at his subject.  “Seymour: An Introduction” possesses the same amount of reverence that might be expected in a documentary about the Dalai Lama or Deepak Chopra.  I kept waiting for Gwyneth Paltrow to jump out at some point and endorse Seymour’s lifestyle brand.

None of this is meant to imply that Hawke is off-base in declaring Seymour a true savant at playing the keys of the piano as well as life, nor do I wish to ridicule the director for some kind of ridiculous insincerity.  I have personally witnessed Ethan Hawke speaking in person, both in private and public settings, and I truly believe that he cares deeply about meaningful art.  To someone without that context, though, “Seymour” might seem to drown under the weight of its hyperbole.

Plenty of Seymour’s wisdom is relevant, applicable, and deeply felt from a lifetime of lived experience.  Sometimes, though, his morsels of insight amount to little more than a well-phrased fortune cookie aphorism.  Hawke treats both like they are holy texts, unassailable because of their almost spiritual nature.  In fact, he passes off the only serious interrogation of his subject to a reporter writing a story on Seymour (convenient way to show undying loyalty to a deity).

“Seymour: An Introduction” works best when consumed like a self-help chicken soup as opposed to a practically religious message.  There is likely a great documentary lurking under the surface of this pretty good one, probably hiding behind the unceasing praise lavished on the film’s sage.  But if Seymour played any part in helping Hawke find the poignancy he lent to those final scenes in “Boyhood,” then this film’s existence is completely justified.  B2halfstars

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