From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story
The new documentary Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story tells two interwoven stories: one is an overview of British comedian Eddie Izzard’s life-story, while the other is a more detailed look at the process by which, in 2003, he crafted an entirely new stand-up routine (that would eventually become his world-wide Sexie tour) from scratch.
While fun and interesting, Believe is more the sort of thing that one might expect to see as a special feature on one of Mr. Izzard’s DVDs, as opposed to a documentary feature that stands on its own. This isn’t really a warts-and-all sort of presentation — Mr. Izzard is presented in an almost uniformly positive light. Although perhaps that was not the intention of the filmmakers, in the end the film functions more as a promotional piece for Mr. Izzard than it does as a true documentary.
Which is not to say that it’s not a worthwhile promotional piece! I enjoyed the look at Mr. Izzard’s life — particularly his grueling efforts at creating a name for himself as a performer and, eventually, a stand-up comedian. It’s an astonishing tale, frankly, of Mr. Izzard’s stubborn persistence in the face of overwhelming odds, and through an impressive array of recovered footage (of Mr. Izzard’s years performing on the street, as well as a number of his early days working the stand-up circuit) it is fascinating to see him slowly develop his comedic style and rock-star glam persona. (It’s a hoot to watch his early break-out performance of the “wolves” sketch in plain men’s slacks and a garish baggy shift.) These are the best aspects of the film. When Mr. Izzard returns to his childhood home and gets teary-eyed reminiscing about his mother, I must confess that I checked out.
In the other half of the film, we see Mr. Izzard travel from gig to gig in small venues across England as he struggles to develop all-new material for his 2003 show (having committed to use NONE of his old jokes) before the launch of his scheduled world tour. This part of the film is also wonderfully filled with actual footage (rather than talking-head reminisces). Apparently Mr. Izzard had all of his workshop gigs recorded, and it’s neat to watch him struggle and stammer his way through those early gigs, slowly beating his material into a polished shape.
A similar story was told in the terrific documentary, Comedian, which chronicled Jerry Seinfeld’s efforts to create an entirely new act in the year after the end of his show (and his subsequent commitment to retire all of his old material). Comedian is a much more polished film, and I think did a better job of showing how a working comedian uses gig after gig to shape an act. That’s not to say that there is nothing of interest on that topic in Believe — there certainly is. It’s just that the material in Believe is presented a little more simplistically.
In the end, this is for the hard-core Eddie Izzard fans only. It’s worth a look, but I doubt it’s something that you’ll find yourself drawn to revisit. For better luck, go rent Live at Wembly, the just-released DVD that contains one of Mr. Izzard’s final performances from his Sexie tour. Or, even better, go watch Dress To Kill, Mr. Izzard’s best stand-up performance, and one of the greatest stand-up routines of all time. “Cake or Death!”