Cracked Up, directed by Michelle Esrick, is a new documentary telling the story of former Saturday Night Live cast member Darrell Hammond, albeit in an interesting and unique way. Focusing less on Hammond’s career and more on how his experiences with depression and trauma affected him, this is a fascinating and personal documentary that needs to be seen.
Hammond is a widely-beloved SNL alum known for his impressive ability to do impersonations, from Bill Clinton to Sean Connery, and as such, his career would have made for an interesting documentary of its own. However, Esrick found an even more compelling story below the surface, involving Hammond’s personal life, making for a documentary that is both insightful and enjoyable.
The best thing about this documentary is the way in which it was able to develop Hammond on a personal level. This film’s success goes beyond even that of the standard biographical documentary, as his struggle and journey to cope with and learn from his trauma is very sympathetic. Although (for obvious reasons) the movie does not go too deep into the specifics of his trauma, the information we are given still feels personal and intimate.
This film will undeniably hit home for anyone who has experienced trauma such as Hammond’s, whether firsthand or having seen a family member or loved one go through it. In either role, trauma is a difficult thing to deal with, and this movie really communicates that in an earnest and compassionate way. With the discourse around mental illness becoming seemingly more and more toxic, it is nice to see a film like this that approaches it from an open-hearted perspective.
That said, the movie is very hopeful in nature. Part of the reason why the film doesn’t linger on the specifics of Hammond’s situation is that it is about how he overcame his trauma to be a successful comedian and happier person. To someone who feels weighed down by the burden of their past, hearing Hammond’s story could be the thing that inspires them to take action and seek help in understanding their past and how it affects them.
Hammond’s stand-up and SNL skits do make an appearance in the movie, lending it a humorous edge, although the emotional elements of the film are certainly dominant. This approach is certainly unusual for a documentary about a comedian, as most audience members will come in expecting to laugh, but it ultimately pays off.
On a technical level, the movie is imperfect but solid. The film is mostly comprised of interviews and archive footage that tell Hammond’s story and provide the necessary context for his career. Although some of the cinematography can be a bit iffy at times, it mostly accomplishes its goal. Additionally, the score is quite good, doing an excellent job of setting the atmosphere.
Cracked Up is certainly an unorthodox documentary, but it is also a very effective one. Thanks to a personal story and a unique and empathetic approach, this movie is touching in more ways than you would expect.
Cracked Up is now playing in theaters.