If the name Tom Shadyac doesn't ring a bell, chances are the names of his movies will. Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, and Patch Adams are a just a few of the films that have earned the writer/director enormous commercial if not critical success. His latest movie, I Am, is a documentary that seeks to determine what's wrong with the world and what can fix it. It marks a radical departure from his previous work.
The most engaging element of the film (not rated) is Shadyac's personal backstory. After a biking accident left him depressed and in constant pain, the multimillionaire realized that private jets, palatial homes, and hobnobbing with fabulous film-industry elite didn't bring the satisfaction he thought they would, so he set out to find a more meaningful way of life.
Shadyac is sincere (in the end, he sold most of his stuff and moved into a trailer park), but once he moves past his own experiences, the answers he offers by way of liberal luminaries like Howard Zinn, Desmond Tutu, and Noam Chomsky dig no deeper than '60s-era sloganeering, with capitalism set up as a cancer. Observations like "Accumulation of private property is considered a mental illness among indigenous cultures," and "Nothing else in nature takes more than it needs" might excite the average poli-sci sophomore, but isn't likely to move reasonable adults who've had, well, any experience with real life.
This isn't to say that Shadyac doesn't make some valid points that Western Christians in particular should confront. Conflating the American dream with Christianity has brought us to a place where enormously popular pastors of enormously populated churches teach that the blessings of heaven always manifest themselves as material wealth-not exactly the stuff of picking up crosses and dying to self.
The film's most profound insight, which ironically inspired its title, undercuts Shadyac's argument that humans possess cooperative, empathetic, essentially good natures. With two simple words G.K. Chesterton sums up our collective sin nature that prevents this earth from becoming the utopia Shadyac and his experts envision. Asked by a London newspaper in 1908 what's wrong with the world, he answered simply-"I am."