Love, Antosha (Garret Price, 2019) 3½ out of 4 stars.
The actor Anton Yelchin (1989-2016), who died in a freak accidentin his own driveway, starred in movies both large and small, from the rebooted Star Trek franchise to the highly improvised indie Like Crazy and many more. He started young, so even with his untimely demise he left behind 69 film and television credits for all to revisit, time and again. We’ll never know his full potential, but what we saw impressed with its breadth and depth. The new documentary Love, Antosha – which takes its title from the signature sign-off he wrote in notes and letters to his doting Soviet-immigrant parents – offers what feels like a comprehensive profile of the late Yelchin, presenting him in all his eccentric glory. It’s a fitting tribute to a man who appears as interesting and complicated as we could all hope to be, and one for which you need not necessarily be a diehard lover of the actor to appreciate its lessons on leading a full life in a short amount of time.
Perhaps the most moving and bittersweet part of Yelchin’s story is his relationship with his parents, understandably devastated by the loss of their son. Any pause one might be given by their deep involvement in the film – will this be a hagiography or a true portrait? – is quickly mitigated by their own self-deprecating charm and, later, director Garret Price’s willingness to examine Yelchin’s twentysomething explorations, via photography, of Los Angeles’ seedy underbelly (visiting sex clubs with friends and a camera to stage truly unsettling tableaux). Then again, by all accounts, Yelchin was a genuinely nice person and consummate professional, so beyond his salacious tastes in nightlife, there’s not a lot of apparent dirt to uncover.
We follow Yelchin from birth to rising stardom, his Jewish parents – successful figure skaters – emigrating from the USSR in 1989 before his birth, concerned about an uptick in anti-Semitism. The boy’s excess of energy leads mother Irina to place him in acting classes, and then the rest naturally ensues, the child becoming a teenager and then a man, building a résumé that includes preliminary roles in Hearts in Atlantis, House of D, Charlie Bartlett and then, yes, Star Trek, the actors and directors of all of which feature prominently here, paying homage to their late friend. What is particularly noteworthy in this rapid progress towards acclaim is that Yelchin was diagnosed, early on, with Cystic Fibrosis, an incurable chronic disease that affects the lungs and other organs, resulting in a shorter lifespan. Yelchin may have died before his time, but he did far more with the stint he had than anyone originally thought he would. Small consolation to his parents, but a victory over adversity, nonetheless.
At 90 minutes, the documentary does not overstay its welcome, though I imagine that the appeal to non-fans may wane at the hour mark. Director Garret Price (an editor for whom this is the first helming credit) assembles a mostly quite compelling and poignant narrative, however, which should appeal to a majority of viewers, irrespective of initial interest. It can certainly be tiresome to hear anyone praised so universally – though, again, those weird photos add enticing intrigue – but Yelchin shines, regardless, a bright light tragically extinguished just as the stage was set for even greater renown. “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”*
*Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2