When my grandmother started to lose it, she was ingenious in masking it. If you asked her who was president, she’d say, “that fool in the White House.” If you asked her about something topical, she’d reply, “Who has time for such things?” It was her game face as her memory began to fail her.
At the beginning of I’ll Be Me, this is where we find Glen Campbell, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He is vague, folksy and stubborn in attempting to defend himself from a world ever more foreign to him. He leans heavily on his wife, who acts as his lifeline to his past, but we see his true state when he watches old home movies, and asks “who is that?” It’s achingly painful to hear his wife’s reply, “That’s you, silly.”
Campbell’s diagnosis came on the eve of his final tour, and in an effort to increase awareness about the disease, he went public and allowed a documentary crew along for the ride. The result is a bittersweet retrospective of his work (I had no idea just how big a star he was) and an examination of what it is to suffer this disease through the eyes of his family (three kids are in his touring band). I feared that this might become exploitative and was heartened to see that not only was it not, but that Campbell’s wife acknowledged the concern, explaining that they weighed the costs and benefits and decided to go forth. I also feared that it would be altered to create a “triumph of the spirit” vibe, but director James Keach (an actor in his own right and Stacy’s brother) presents Campbell and the disease in sober fashion; when Campbell’s issues become acute, it is almost too much to bear, and when they evince on stage (as is shown on the clip above), it is not sugar-coated. But the audience is with him, so are we and the fact that his music is so ingrained in him it triumphs over the disease, for a time, is a wonder to watch.
Currently on Netflix Streaming.