“Stutz” is a sentimental retracing through Hill’s own therapy sessions, with an artistic freedom that comes with transparency about its making-of process. In its beginning, “Stutz” is intriguing but stuffy; it’s too much in its own head. The editing is distracting, seemingly cutting on Stutz after every sentence, jumping between two similar angles so that you’re aware of the edits. Meanwhile Hill’s use of Errol Morris’ Interrotron camera has Hill asking rhetorical questions that we obviously know he has asked before, like “So what are the tools?” The film’s premise of Hill being the inquisitor, a flip of the therapist and patient dynamic, starts to feel flat.
But then Hill gets honest, with us, Stutz, and himself. We learn about 25 minutes into the movie that we have been watching a fake set made to look like Stutz’s office, treated with a green screen background, for a chronologically edited shoot that isn’t one session, but has taken place over many months. Even Hill’s hair is fake, as a wig hides the much shorter cut underneath that he wants to hide for consistency. The black-and-white breaks to show us everything in bracing color, before returning back to the monochrome warmth of Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography. The editing lets shots breathe for a longer period of time, and the Interrotron shots that have Hill and Stutz talking to the camera create the natural flow it should. The movie answers the question of “How do you make a documentary about your therapist?” by trusting in intuition, and embracing the nuance in the process of creating—some choices and divergences here are more effective than others. But having no self-judgment when drafting is liberating, and it’s particularly poignant how Hill lets that inform his entire approach.
As a formal experimentation by an actor whose filmmaking talents are only the latest chapter in his Hollywood story, the documentary offers a touching reflection on Jonah Hill, The Star. Without specifically mentioning movie projects or other’s names, he shares his sense of self during success, and how self-esteem remained elusive. His body weight provided its own stress and angst. At one point in “Stutz,” he holds a massive cardboard cutout of his 14-year-old self, which he calls “undesirable to the world.” Throughout, the yodeling voice of Mason Ramsey—yes, the viral, young country singer—is placed inside Emile Mosseri’s atmospheric piano compositions, as if Ramsey were the voice of Hill’s inner child, roaming an expanded headspace.