At the start of documentary character study Sunshine Superman, TV producer John Long describes a typical conversation with friend Carl Boenish, a skydiving and BASE-jumping pioneer, as a flurry of “stream-of-conscious” associations. Long’s characterization of Boenish’s infectious energy and unfocused intelligence also effectively describes Sunshine Superman‘s unkempt, engrossing appeal.
If Sunshine Superman featured voiceover commentary, the film’s narrator would probably adopt a high-functioning stoner’s confident but easily distracted tone. In one stretch of the film, Carl’s relationship with Jean Boenish, his wife, is explored through touching anecdotes and amazing home movies that Carl and Jean shot while cliff-diving. Then the film shifts focus to Carl’s recreational habit of breaking into and parachuting from the top of Los Angeles skyscrapers.
After that, the Boenishes are shown visiting Norway, where Long casually observes that a bone jutting out of Boenish’s left leg was never properly set since Carl is a Christian Scientist. Long and other experts’ colorful commentary is so involving that the film’s diffuse narrative never feels distractingly unfocused. Scenes where Bill Wendt, the former chief ranger at Yosemite National Park, discusses his conflicted feelings about legally banning Boenish’s cliff-diving go a long way toward humanizing the Boenishes’ thrilling but alien documentary footage.
You may not leave Sunshine Superman wanting to emulate Carl and Jean, but you will feel like you’ve vicariously bonded with them.