Hill originally made his directorial debut with the movie Mid90s, receiving acclaim for the work he did on the film, as he wrote the story too. Stutz is only the second movie he has directed so far, as the vast majority of his career has been focused on acting until the release of Mid90s. In a statement to Deadline, Hill said the following about Stutz: “‘The whole purpose of making this film is to give therapy and the tools I’ve learned in therapy to a wide audience for private use through an entertaining film.’” He later went on to say that he has faced years of anxiety attacks and other mental health conditions, and he hopes that the film would “make it more normal for people to talk and act on this stuff. So they can take steps towards feeling better so that the people in their lives might understand their issues more clearly.”
The documentary does just that: it features only two people talking for the entirety of its run time. One of them is Phil Stutz, a well-known psychiatrist but also Hill’s go-to therapist. While Hill attempts to focus on Stutz’s career leading up to this point and what makes his decisions as a psychiatrist, it delves deeper into their personal lives. An intimate, gentle, and quiet movie, Stutz will not be in everyone’s interest. But that does not mean everyone should not watch it at least once—they should. There are lessons on vulnerability and health scattered throughout this film.
A Documentation of Therapeutic Practices
Although Hill is a core part of the documentary Stutz, the figure it truly focuses on is psychiatrist Phil Stutz. These two are not meeting for the first time to make this documentary; Stutz and Hill had a relationship beforehand, as Stutz is Hill’s therapist. He is also a leading figure in the field, and the documentary not only serves the lens of how these two are similar and different but a preservation of the tactics he utilized during his extensive career. In the film’s first segment, it seems their roles have reversed. Instead of Stutz asking Hill questions, Hill is the one in a position of power. He asks Stutz about the tools and methodologies he uses when with a client or patient. This approach seems dry, but then a crack begins to show: their personal lives. The two are connected by a similar traumatic experience when they were growing up: their brothers died.
Hill’s brother’s death is more recent: he passed away in 2017. Hill had been going to Stutz for therapy even before this happened, but their shared experience adds a sense of kinship to their conversation as a whole. At first, Hill tries to keep this part of the story held within himself, refusing to talk about it while on camera. His resolve eventually crumbles, and he does open up about the story of his brother, but Hill attempts to keep the narrative narrowed in on Stutz and fails. That is what ultimately makes this documentary so interesting: their dialogue and exchange fail to serve an outside audience. It feels indulgent at times, but mimicking the reality that this kind of work engages in often. Stutz is a seventy-four-year-old man with quite a bit of history in his story, but one will not walk away with superficial ideas and broad blanket statements about his life after watching Stutz.
Stutz does an excellent job at piecing together a lifetime of Stutz’s work, as well as his personal experiences as well. There are failures incorporated into his story: even in his own life, there are mountains to overcome, deaths and departures leaving behind a gaping hole. No matter how hard these two men diverge from their original conversation, Stutz remains a dedication to the psychiatrist’s work and the legacy he will eventually leave behind. There is another key element that defines the movie as well: Hill’s need to learn how to be vulnerable. He dances around subjects and tries to hide behind a wall he places upon himself throughout, denying himself the opportunity to talk about certain subjects and people. But, in the making of the documentary film, he makes progress in learning how to be open in a completely different way than he has done so before.
A Relevant Piece of Filmmaking
Stutz grounds itself in the work of Hill’s therapist, championing an everyday hero for him and so many other people, whether they are his fellow patients or therapists in the field. Hill admits, towards the beginning of the conversation, they will not discuss what they usually do in their therapy sessions. Typically, many Americans consume an unhealthy amount of self-help videos, podcasts, listicles, magazines, and books. Film and television often avoid this kind of setup due to the uncertainties that come with the genre: people typically read and listen to these kinds of stories and advice. And perhaps that is why Stutz has come out at a perfect time.
Anxieties about the current state of the world and what is in store for us as human beings are at an all-time high. At the same time, therapy is inaccessible for a large majority of the population, including those who cannot afford it in the United States, or in countries where there is still a stigma about mental health services. Film and television often serve as a form of escapism, but sometimes, there is something to be learned from the content and stories presented in this format. This documentary offers many of those learning lessons, providing strategies and processes therapists may work through with a patient. It may not be a complete substitute for actual individualized therapy, but it adds more to the mainstream consciousness and provokes discussions about the merits and practices involved.
Stutz is filmed almost completely in a monochromatic black-and-white style, adding to the feeling that there are no frills. At its essence, the film is about the conversation these two men are having in this singular moment. The camera cuts back and forth between them, adding to the question-and-answer style that the documentary adopts as its medium. It quickly cuts back and forth between Stutz and Hill, which can become quite disorienting at first. This form of editing drags the visual elements of the documentary but becomes more exciting as animation and pictures are implemented to describe Stutz’s methods. Gradually, both men begin to open up, offering therapy as a picture of not only a transactional relationship, one in which the power hierarchy rests solely on one individual but a form of mutual exchange and human contact as well.
Film theorists may argue that people act and speak differently when the camera is placed in front of them, especially in the arena of documentaries, but on a superficial level, Stutz feels authentic. Some elements feel more constructed: these are explicitly pointed out when Hill mentions he is wearing a wig and that they are on a set. However, this movie is not a tell-all therapy session where Jonah Hill spills all of his secrets and fears to a watching audience. There are moments when Hill does become vulnerable, offering insight into his life and what has impacted him. It becomes easier to forget that Hill is some famous actor making this movie, offering a more humane look at his life and the anxieties that come with a rise to fame mixed with personal struggles. By its end, all of this is what makes Stutz endearing. It is not perfect, and it most likely will not pander to mainstream movies and documentaries, but there is impact packed into this brief run time.
Stutz is available to stream on Netflix as of November 14, 2022.