Why should anyone care to watch this movie? That question gets addressed in Joanna Arnow’s autobiographical documentary even before viewers can voice it themselves. “It just seems so shallow,” says Arnow’s boyfriend James, the subject of this film. Arnow’s premise is “Is James a good person to be dating?”; just a few minutes in, the answer swings toward the negative. James is an envelope-pushing, open-mic poet who, as a white man, freely drops the N-word in the mostly black Harlem community where he’s carved out a small audience. In their romantic relationship, James is boorish and inconsiderate — the kind of guy you’d tell anyone to run away from.
Run Arnow does not; instead she confronts, camera on, what it says about her that she puts up with — and even enjoys — such a degrading relationship. Here, the doc shifts from a film about James to a film about Joanna, one that’s as awkward as it is bold. Her editor, Max, makes a few appearances — always naked, sometimes with his penis directly pointed at the camera — as the voice of uncomfortable conscience, prompting Arnow to answer provocative questions about herself. Arnow works with crude, intimate handheld camerawork as her own DP, making the film feel like footage we’re not supposed to see (especially during sex scenes) and it’s even more painful when she makes her parents sit through it. It’s difficult to label Arnow’s cinematic voice, and this particular film, or why anyone would even want to watch something so personal, but i hate myself 🙂 is never not fascinating.
i hate myself 🙂
Directed by Joanna Arnow
Opens April 7, Anthology Film Archives
Available on demand April 11