Movie: Being Elmo
Directed by: Constance Marks
I like dark movies. I like movies that leave you feeling emotionally broken, depressed and distraught at the end. Bonus points if it makes somebody in the room cry. I like movies that have themes of loss, oppression, hopelessness and basically any other negativity word you can pull out of the thesaurus. I’m not sure why exactly, but when I watched Requiem for a Dream the first time it just hit me that I enjoy movies that exist in a world of suffering, pain, misfortune with a distinct lack of happy endings.
So, with that in mind, it’s very strange for me to watch a movie about a puppet. Especially when that puppet is Elmo.
Somehow the stars aligned and I was drawn into a strange occult ritual of watching something positive. A positive movie nonetheless about the puppet from Sesame Street that represents the idea of love. How did I watch it? I don’t know, it was just in my Bluray player after I woke up in a bathtub filled with ice and my kidney was missing. There was a note that said ‘I want to play a game’ and it was taped to my remote.
Like I said, somehow the stars aligned.
Being Elmo follows the story of Kevin Clash, the man who is now the hand that is constantly up Elmo’s butt. He also gets paid lots of money for it. He created Elmo, so I think it’s only fair that he is the one who gets to sodomize him. The movie starts at his youth, when he first started getting the inspiration for puppetry and it then moves on to his teenage years when he started making his own puppets. From there the movie goes on to all the amazing opportunities he had, how he got his training and ultimately his working relationship with Jim Henson and Sesame Street. We see how he made Elmo’s character (because yes, puppetry in itself IS acting) and the film closes up with the impact that Elmo actually has on the world.
Yes, it may seem surprising how much impact a little puppet can have, but that’s because we all forget what it’s like to be kids. We’ve spent too much time ‘growing up’ so Elmo lost all the impact he once had with us. He’s definitely one of the most instantly recognizable Sesame Street muppet, along with the other giant, so it makes sense to make a movie all about him. It makes even more sense when you hear the story that the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, has. How he got to the point of truly achieving his dreams is truly remarkable and inspiring. The whole reason of being for this movie is to remind everyone that, yes, you can achieve what you want.
There is occasional narration by Oprah, and a lot of interviews and testimony from people close in Clash’s life, but most of the narrative actually comes from Kevin Clash himself. This is great because it feels like you’re sitting in a room with him and a coffee as he’s just telling you his life story. I imagine if it was your dream to enter the world of puppetry like Clash, then that this movie would be a dream come true. Even as a viewer who knows very little about puppetry, apart from a few things my close friend would tell me, I found this movie interesting and engaging. The ‘can do’ attitude of the film serves it well too, watching it makes you feel like you can achieve your dream.
The professionalism and ability of Kevin Clash is also what makes the film so compelling to watch. He’s like a big lovable teddy bear, described at one point as Elmo himself, and you want him to succeed, even though you know it’s impossible for him not to– seeing as how this is non-fiction. You also will feel better knowing that such a good, kind-hearted person exists in the Sesame Street world, and really loves his job. He loves Elmo, he travels around the world to portray him at events and all that. He’s an amazing puppeteer too, watching him teach other puppeteers at one point in the movie is incredible– I’d wager you never thought about how much skill is needed in making a puppet come alive. It’s not just talking with a thing on your hand, it’s making that puppet become alive and be an actual character with its own personality.
It’s a short movie and breezes by, staying entertaining, funny and heart-warming throughout. The movie has a very nice feeling to it, and, as I’ve said before, really teaches you that, yes, you can follow your dream if you put your mind to it. I really recommend this movie, if not just for Kevin Clash’s personality itself. The moments where you see Elmo’s creation is great, especially if you grew up with siblings or cousins watching Sesame Street. Elmo may not be the biggest badass in the world, and watching a movie on him and his puppeteer may not seem too exciting, but I assure you that this movie is great. You’ll feel good watching it and sometimes that’s all filmmaking is about: smiling and getting inspired.
Now, back to my depressing movies about depression, death, and sadness…
Being Elmo: 8/10