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Best Boy Reviews

An exceptional film, BEST BOY is the moving account of a mentally handicapped man's social development and the effect it has on his family. Philly, the 52-year-old cousin of filmmaker Ira Wohl, is mentally handicapped and lives with his elderly parents, Max and Pearl. Concerned about Philly's future welfare, the family embarks on an effort to have Philly learn independence from his parents. A doctor examines Philly and states that Philly is fine, although he will always need supervision. The doctor recommends that Philly be placed in a program where he can spend time with people like himself. Ira takes Philly to a zoo, a significant event because it is the first time in his adult life that Philly will be away from his parents. Philly has a good time and excitedly tells Pearl about the outing when he returns home. A year later, Philly is enrolled in a training center for the mentally handicapped. He enjoys himself and gets along well with both the instructors and other students. One night, Ira takes Philly to a Broadway performance of Fiddler on the Roof. Backstage, Philly is introduced to its star, Zero Mostel, and the two sing part of "If I Were a Rich Man." Philly is clearly changed by his exposure to the outside world. He is comfortable with other people and looks forward to going to the training center. In summer, Philly goes to camp, the first time he voluntarily leaves his parents for an extended period. Philly enthusiastically participates in camp activities and has fun showing his parents around when they visit. Soon after, Max dies, and Pearl and Fran must explain the death to Philly. He comprehends, saying that his father is "in heaven." Ira advises Pearl to put Philly into a residence for the mentally handicapped, so that he will no longer be dependent on her. Pearl has mixed feelings, but agrees, and the family moves Philly into a new home. Philly takes to it immediately, and begins his life of independence. BEST BOY is an exemplary piece of documentary filmmaking. Shot over a period of three years, BEST BOY is more than a demonstration of the potentiality of the mentally handicapped; it is also a delicate study of how family relationships evolve. Ira Wohl proves to be a remarkably patient and intuitive documentarian. Working with cinematographer Tom McDonough, Wohl chooses a quietly observant style of filming that creates an intimacy with his subject that never becomes invasive. Wohl also seems to know how to film people without making them self-conscious in front of the camera. The behavior of Wohl's family members and even the behavior of the staffs at the centers and clinics Philly visits seem unaffected by the filming, even though they occasionally acknowledge the camera's presence. The film is also smartly edited. BEST BOY is most absorbing not when it marks Philly's progress, but at its less critical moments, such as when Philly's mother and sister escort him onto the bus that will take him to the training center for the first time, or when Max and Pearl idle nervously at home while Philly is away. As these scenes persist, they reveal a great deal about why the change in Philly's life is so necessary. Wohl also demonstrates discipline in the manner in which he manages his dual roles as filmmaker and family member. As a concerned cousin, Wohl plays an active part in matters concerning Philly, but as filmmaker, he knows when to maintain some distance, so as not to direct the story's course. Even as the film's narrator, Wohl shows discretion, keeping his narration brief, and allowing the images and words of his family to tell the story. A deserving winner of the 1979 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, BEST BOY is a very involving portrait of both individual and collective achievement, as well as an example of what a documentary filmmaker can achieve if he approaches his subject with humanity and integrity.