Review: ‘Best Man: Best Boy and All of Us Twenty Years Later’

Twenty years after "Best Boy" received a best documentary Oscar (and top prize at Toronto), Ira Wohl continues the story of his cousin Philly in "Best Man: Best Boy and All of Us Twenty Years Later." Now 70 years old, the mentally retarded man is still an engaging and inspirational figure and a compelling film subject.

Twenty years after “Best Boy” received a best documentary Oscar (and top prize at Toronto), Ira Wohl continues the story of his cousin Philly in “Best Man: Best Boy and All of Us Twenty Years Later.” Now 70 years old, the mentally retarded man is still an engaging and inspirational figure and a compelling film subject. But as pic retraces familiar ground, the material feels somewhat contrived and lacks the original’s first-person immediacy. The film is likely to gain some theatrical exposure, but its primary appeal will be in TV and cassette sales.

Director provides a brief intro and clips from the first film. Phil Wohl had lived his entire life with then-elderly parents when “Best Boy” was made. Concerned for his welfare, Ira Wohl convinced his relatives to allow Philly to attend a school and eventually to move into a special facility.

The filmmaker, who segued into clinical psychology and moved to Los Angeles, states that people continued to ask him about his cousin, so he decided to do this postscript, assembling the same crew to document the new chapter.

With Philly’s parents now dead, his sister, Frances, has assumed his mother’s role — gentle, supportive and very reliant on him. In addition to chronicling his everyday life, the film gets a dramatic lift when the subject takes his first plane trip to visit the filmmaker in L..A. We also see his preparation for and the service of his bar mitzvah, the Jewish religious ceremony commemorating the passage from childhood to maturity.

The service, which concludes the film, fits a little too snugly and feels more convenient than emotional. But when the filmmaker states that we would all be happier if we had lives as joyful as Philly’s, he cannot be accused of hyperbole.

Best Man: Best Boy and All of Us Twenty Years Later

Production

An Only Child Motion Pictures production. Produced, directed, written, edited by Ira Wohl.

Crew

Camera (color), Tom McDonough; sound, Peter Miller. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 9, 1997. (Also in AFI/L.A. Film Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.
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