Belushi: A Heartbreaking Must-Watch Documentary

John Belushi. Photo Credit: Michael Gold/Courtesy of SHOWTIME.

Belushi is a heartbreaking must-watch documentary about late Saturday Night Live, Animal House, and Blues Brothers star John Belushi.

This summer marked the 40th anniversary of The Blues Brothers hitting the big screen.  Sadly, this year also marked the 38th anniversary of the comedian’s tragic death at 33 years old.  And yet this film finds a way to capture what was going on in his head with newfound movie stardom.  Mind you, this was during an era without social media.  The late 1970s saw two things going on that would certainly change everything: Animal House and Saturday Night Live.  Before this, there was The Second City and National Lampoon.  During the documentary, the comedian mentions being in Chicago at the time of the riots and being some ten feet away from where it all started.  And yet, none of this surprises me.

What does surprise me is the heartache you can feel in his voice in letters to his wife, Judy Belushi Pisano.  You can feel the hurt and pain when he writes of losing control of his drug habit.  The final scenes really hurt especially when you see the coroner appearing on screen.  If Judy had accompanied him out to LA, it’s quite possible that she could have saved his life.  We’ll never truly know.

There’s no denying that John Belushi is a comedy legend and this documentary certainly shows that.  We all know the story of how Chris Farley looked up to him.  Unfortunately, Farley would also suffer from a similar fate.  But what this film does is present another angle to the comedian’s story.  A very personal angle at that.  This is something that comes across in interviews with Carrie Fisher.  The Star Wars star also knew what it was like to struggle with staying sober.

We all know John’s story but R.J. Cutler allows the late comedian to tell his story in his own words.  This comes by way of archival interviews and letters to Judy.  The audiotapes appearing in the film are being heard for the first time.  Friends and family also have a chance to chime in.  We can thank both Belushi Pisano and author Tanner Colby for the archival interviews.  The comedian’s widow had authorized a biography back in the day and the interviews come in handy in the film.  Outside of archival interviews, there are no talking heads appearing on camera.  Outside of a few sequences with animation, the documentary is completely archival.

Where there isn’t archival video or still photos appearing on screen, Cutler finds a way to change it up with Robert Valley’s animation.  Even if this is outside-the-box thinking, Valley’s animation wonderfully goes with the dialogue or music.

John Belushi lived a tragically short life but Belushi shows his comedy legacy–for better or worse–lives on.

DIRECTOR:  R.J. Cutler
FEATURING:  John Belushi, Michael Apted, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Beatts, Agnes Belushi, Jim Belushi, Judy Belushi Pisano, Marian Belushi, Candice Bergen, Dick Blasucci, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Sean Daniel, Tom Davis, Gus Dimas, Carrie Fisher, Jim Fisher, Joe Flaherty, Paul Flaherty, Mitch Glazer, Tony Hendra, Tino Isana, Seam Kelly, Sue Keller, John Landis, Penny Marshall, Bruce McGill, Lorne Michaels, Chris Miller, Laila Nabulsi, Don Novello, Dan Payne, Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, Eugene Ross-Leming, Bernie Sahlins, Tom Schiller, Rosie Shuster, Matty Simmons, Bob Tischler, Richard Zanuck, Alan Zweibel

Belushi screens during the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival and AFI Fest. Showtime will air the documentary on November 22, 2020. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.