2023 Slamdance Film Festival: Starring Jerry as Himself Review

Starring Jerry as Himself tells the story of an elderly Chinese immigrant that’s recruited by the Chinese police to investigate a crime which leads Jerry to learn a darker truth. Just from the description, I was intrigued, and I was excited to watch Jerry discover the information in real time. It took me a few minutes before I realized that this was a hybrid documentary, meaning that they hired actors to help recreate the true story of Jerry’s life. Once you realize that, everything makes much more sense, and the film starts to click. Starring Jerry as Himself is the debut of director Law Chen, who also co-wrote it with Jerry.

The film begins with this sweet montage of home videos that show Jerry, his wife, and their three boys together. Jerry was an engineer who worked hard, saved up all his money, and retired about a year before the documentary takes place. The main plot begins when he receives a call from the T-Mobile Chinese Service Department saying that his phone was going to be shut down because they received a report from the Shanghai Public Security Bureau, which stated they had an arrest warrant for a phone call where he spoke out against the Chinese government. Jerry insists that he’s been wrongly accused of this because he hasn’t been back to China in nearly 30 years and because he doesn’t own a phone in China. Once the T-Mobile employee realizes that someone has stolen his identity, she gives him the phone number of the Chinese Security Bureau, where he reports the crime. They eventually agree that prove his innocence that he must investigate the criminal named Cheng Hua, who is using Jerry’s bank as a front for money laundering and clear his name.

Jerry is a kind father and a good man, so he works tirelessly to help his family while being the American contact for the investigation. He must keep the investigation secret, which proves to be difficult and causes him to distance himself from his family. The rest of the documentary follows Jerry as tries to prove his innocence while tensions are rising between his family and himself. They begin to notice his forgotten absences and excessive phone calls. I wouldn’t dare to reveal the twist in the story, but the viewer will come to realize it before Jerry, which gives an emotional weight to the film I wasn’t expecting.

At a mere 75 minutes, the film quickly and in an entertaining way shows us how Jerry’s life changed over these three months. The hybrid documentary format lends itself to be a useful tool in making the story feel more cinematic and makes certain storytelling choices that give us insight into the state of Jerry’s mind. The actors who play the cops and the bank worker do an excellent job of balancing the interesting tone the movie is attempting due to the hybrid nature. Jerry and the rest of his family starring as themselves are so charming that you can’t help but love them. Starring Jerry as Himself is a wonderful film that connected with my emotions much more than I was ever expecting. We should all dedicate the time to watch the story that Jerry experienced and needed to tell the world.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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