Doc of the Day: I Think We're Alone Now Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: I Think We're Alone Now

Posted in Days of Docs by - May 30, 2012

Meet Jeff and Kelly. They are very unusual people, with a shared, unusual, obsessive love. Don’t be so quick to scorn them.

Dir. Sean Donnelly, 2008, 64 min

Here’s a dubious superlative: I Think We’re Alone Now features the most pitiable characters of any documentary that I’ve seen yet. That’s probably to be expected when you’re dealing with celebrity stalkers, but still. The pair of people at the focus of this movie are almost aggressively pathetic. They also engage in behavior that verges on loathsome, and the greatest trick the film pulls is maintaining your sympathy for them. Still, even at a scant hour length, it’s almost too much to take.

Jeff Turner is a fifty-year-old, devoutly religious man with Asperger’s Syndrome living in Santa Cruz. Kelly McCormick is a thirty-five-year-old, fitness-obsessed intersexed woman who lives in Denver. You wouldn’t think they’d have anything in common, but they do: a deep, abiding love for 80’s pop star Tiffany. Not only that, but both their respective loves for the singer run far deeper than mere fandom. They go straight into rather… unhealthy realms.

They are, in short, utterly obsessed with Tiffany. Jeff is in fact an outright stalker, having sent her (rejected) love letters over the years, as well as once getting arrested for trying to present her with a “traditional Japanese gift” of a samurai sword. Jeff is unbearably creepy, utterly oblivious to the fact that his feelings are not reciprocated in the least. Spending time with him in this film sometimes feels like watching the home movies of a serial killer.

Kelly, who mostly keeps her infatuation bottled up within, is much more sad than unnerving. She pines from afar, her walls lined with photos of Tiffany, and she often seems desperately in need of a hug (I mean, I probably wouldn’t give it to her, because she gives me the willies, but you get the idea). Kelly allows the delusion that her idol will love her back to grow in her head, until it takes on near-hallucinatory qualities.

The fact that a has-been from the 1980’s has not one but two half-mad people worshipping her is odd enough, and that the filmmakers were able to find them both is even more astonishing. Then again, pretty much everything is fair game for devotion in this world. Some people care way too much about My Little Pony. And Jeff and Kelly both demonstrate that they have fairly obsessive natures in general; him with religion and her with working out. They are both extremely isolated individuals, he by his Asperger’s and she by her sexual characteristics. In a dearth of normative human contact, they’ve turned to extreme measures to feel content.

The film is so low-rent that I’m honestly unsure whether the hand-drawn pieces of paper held up to the screen as titles are an aesthetic or budgetary choice. Whether intentionally or not, this also adds to the “serial killer home video” feel that I mentioned earlier. But it also makes for an intensely personal atmosphere. For better or worse, you feel like you’re in the room with these people, and without a remove, you can’t be too quick to cast judgment over them.

I Think We’re Alone Now is both really scary and really sad. It may be an even more uncomfortable experience for people who resolutely do not want to spend time with stalkers. But it’s not really “about” stalking. It’s about isolation, and grasping out from isolation for whatever kind of love you can find, no matter how illusory it is. This is the most extreme form, but isn’t it really something that many “normal” people sometimes feel as well? The greatness of film is its ability to connect diverse people. I honestly find it a bit wondrous that there are ways even regular folk aren’t too different from celebrity stalkers. Or maybe I’m just crazy as well. That’s a possibility. Either way, this is a good movie.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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