Therapy cinema — in which people make documentaries about themselves to work through their issues — is frequently an open invitation to indulgence and vanity. But “OC87” serves both its subject and its viewers well by chronicling a process that is actually insightful, entertaining and apparently successful. Afflicted most of his life with the titular laundry list of mental illnesses, Bud Clayman decided to aid his recovery by revisiting a long-deferred dream of becoming a filmmaker. This engaging mix of diaristic, interview-based and whimsical elements opened May 25 in Gotham; word of mouth should help its continuing gradual rollout across the U.S.
A Philadelphia man in his 50s, Clayman seems gregarious and good-humored, if a tad manic, at first glance. But as he admits up front, “My OCD tells me that I must control every thought and action perfectly” — a problem since, natch, nobody’s perfect — while his Asperger syndrome makes every simple social interaction a painful exercise in trying not to do the wrong thing.
Trouble began in earnest in his late teens, when he began experiencing major depression. Moving from a private Hebrew school where he was considered special (in a good way) to the anonymous crush of a large university, he was found at one point living in total hermit-hoarder squalor. The pic’s title comes from what Clayman considers his watershed event: the 1987 arrival of an obsessive-compulsive disorder that shut down his remaining social skills, bringing with it an intense anger and violent thoughts he’s constantly afraid he’ll act on. (Unlike most people, “Harm OCD” sufferers have great difficulty grasping that negative thoughts won’t equal actions — even though, as in Bud’s case, they never actually do act on them.)
Working at his father’s nonprofit foundation, taking his meds and seeking therapy have already evidently helped Clayman considerably over the years by the pic’s start. But he seeks further improvement and answers, and decides to make a film about it all. That process takes an unpredictable path, including revisiting some former haunts (like a residential treatment facility); meeting a former therapist who uses a pocket knife to vividly demonstrate a point about thought vs. action; and letting Mom give his current hellhole apartment an extreme makeover toward livability. He also visits a San Francisco newscaster and a “General Hospital” actor who have flourished despite being obsessive-compulsive and biopolar, respectively.
The filmmaking itself experiences occasional hurdles due to the subject’s residual difficulty in making decisions and receiving others’ input, genial as he seems. A few staged sequences with voiceover narration illustrate the obstacles his mind creates during everyday activities. Yet surprisingly, we also see him quite relaxed during a funny speed-dating montage and subsequent karaoke-bar double date.
Co-directors Glenn Holsten and Scott Johnston, often seen onscreen with other crew, oversee an artful tech package; Kathleen Soulliere’s editing, organizing a somewhat motley assortment of content, is particularly notable.