Just an Illusion - a documentary about a family and their boat - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Just an Illusion - a documentary about a family and their boat


There is a naive “charm” to the documentary Just an Illusion which is an intimate look at an 11-year journey with a Midwest (US) family trying to make their way on a small sailboat. This documentary follows a father and his four sons as they adventure downriver to Mobile Bay (AL). Ride along with them as they navigate their relationships and the many obstacles of a boater's life. This documentary rides the line between experimental filmmaking and traditional documentary.

I return to the word “charming” to describe the Meyers’ desire to share this slice of time their family spent gliding on water. Let’s face it, most of us will never spend any real-time on a boat, with some of us, never having set foot on one.  And there is something romantic about the idea of choosing to “float through life” instead of running through the rat race like most choose 

But Just an Illusion de-romanticizes the idea of life on the water, providing a gritty, and authentic look at what it means in choosing this life as demonstrated by the repairs their boat constantly needs, along with backed-up toilets, and dark nights with just the GPS for guidance.

I’m not sure if the Meyers brothers choose this “fly on the wall” position on purpose or they were clueless about how cinematic storytelling should be structured. It’s clever enough in his basic elements to make me wonder if a collection of deeper storytellers did this on purpose. 

For example, the film leaps backward and forward in time, not caring about any given year, and they use a lot of generic text to push the “story” across the screen.  

I wish they would have focused more on the two brothers, just kicking it at home, sharing a straightforward story about the time (crazy, as it was) they made a heroic attempt to assist an 

incompetent friend on a sailing trip where everything went wrong.  It would have worked since “man against nature” and “man against man” have been helping craft compelling stories for hundreds of years. 

Just an Illusion is made by amateurs. This is a fact that can’t be removed but there are some genuinely, interesting “moments” but not enough to make this a good film. 

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