Ever wonder why people with financial means start their own charity foundations when near-identical ones already exist to serve the same purpose?
Successful filmmaker Tom Shadyac seemed to do something similar by making the documentary "I Am" after a nearly fatal injury resulted in an epiphany to find out how to make the world a better place.
This film had the appearance of another well-intentioned vanity project, with Shadyac's comedy filmmaking background ("Ace Ventura," "Bruce Almighty," "Liar Liar"), political naivete and physical resemblance to "Weird Al" Yankovic making him an ideal candidate to do so.
But instead, "I Am" largely succeeds because of Shadyac's earnestness, the interesting mix of poets, writers, religious leaders, scientists and political scientists he meets with, and compelling nature visuals combined with reels of stock footage.
After Shadyac suffered a 2007 bicycle accident that left him with post-concussion syndrome and depression, he saw materialism as the problem, downsizing from a 17,000-square-foot house in Pasadena, Calif., to a Malibu trailer park. He then set out to find what ailed humankind and how it could be healed.
To help, Shadyac chats with Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and especially Thom Hartmann from the left side of the political dial, scientists from the Institute of HeartMath and the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Bishop Desmond Tutu and writers Lynne McGaggart, Coleman Barks and David Suzuki.
There's plenty of New Agey science and selective biological studies to wade through, including the assertion that people breathe the same argon dinosaurs, Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ did, and an unfortunate mind experiment with yogurt that Shadyac participates in.
What ultimately emerges are the beliefs that everything in the world is connected and interrelated; that there is a universality of empathy and compassion; and consciousness, including manifestation in small, everyday acts, can become an unmovable force.
The possibility of remaking the world is summed up by a girl seen in a flash who is holding a sign that reads, "Be the change that you want to see."
Because Shadyac's philosophical approach to change is centered on the individual rather than political and economic systems, it is sure to strike many as simplistic and too pie in the sky.
The title comes from an essay sponsored by the London Times in which writer G.K. Chesterson answered "I am" to the question, "What's wrong with the world?"
3 stars (out of 4)
DIRECTOR: Tom Shadyac
RUNNING TIME: 76 minutes
RATING: Unrated, but PG equivalent for footage of death and famine.
THE LOWDOWN: Filmmaker has epiphany after near-death experience to find out how to make the world a better place.