On Saturday afternoon, the Wisconsin Film Festival screened Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa's Jerry & Me at the UW Cinematheque for a decent-sized crowd of Jerry Lewis fanatics like me. Saeed-Vafa's obsession with Lewis began during her childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran, when his movies distracted her from the painful realities of life under the Shah. She narrates the story of her troubled family, her troubled homeland, and her troubled emigration to the United States to become a film professor.
That's a lot of trouble for a 38-minute film, especially one that's nominally about a comedian. Saeed-Vafa grafts Lewis onto Jerry & Me by showing snippets of his work (dubbed into Persian) and making awkward connections to them in her personal story. For example, she shows a clip of Jerry being dragged across the floor, then morosely informs us that "I felt I was dragging my body like a dummy, without a goal."
No one would minimize the tragic elements of Saeed-Vafa's life, or of Iran's history. But she hits her audience over the head with tragedy in Jerry & Me while offering little to engage them. A bit of humor, insight or filmmaking grace would have been nice.
As for Lewis, she finally hangs him out to dry by showing an interview clip in which he makes a joke about chilly Arab-Jewish relations. Saeed-Vafa implies that he's anti-Arab -- quite a stretch based on this flimsy evidence. It certainly seems like a churlish way to end your love letter to Jerry Lewis.