The documentary genre appears flooded recently with a series of films that are intent on depressing you about many things that are wrong with the world. Michael Moore is unleashing, for free, his latest political ragefest, environmental documentaries are alerting us to the fact that we’re all doomed, and human atrocities are rightly being exposed in a series of powerful films from across the world.
But documentaries are a broad church, and that leads us to Chris Waitt’s film, that I’ve been wanting to see since Carl caught it at the Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this year.
The film is, quite simply, the tale of one man who, after being dumped once more by his latest girlfriend, decides to track down all of his ex-girlfriends to find out why it is they rid themselves of him. And at first, you’re left thinking it’s not going to work. A succession of wise women hang up on him and refuse to get involved with the project, while Waitt continues to portray himself as the kind of person you believe could incite such a reaction. It’s only when his mum intervenes, after the whole project seemingly comes under threat, that things really start rolling.
When A Complete History Of My Sexual Failures does shift into gear too, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Some sequences are blatantly staged with comedy in mind, such as Waitt visiting a dominatrix when hunting via MySpace for a new girlfriend (a scene of gasping-for-air comedy genius). Others are just bizarre: the one girlfriend who will only appear in the film talking through a computer voicebox from behind a curtain you can sympathise with, and the delivery of her comments is quite brilliant.
It does lead you to think that things are more constructed than you’d initially expect, and you do start having some sympathy for the people involved. In particular, one ex-girlfriend seems desperately let down by Waitt, and you almost feel intrusive witnessing the conversation that the two share.
Tonally, the film does veer off course a little uncomfortably near the end, as what starts with something very funny – the inevitable Viagra experiment – does start getting less so when Waitt runs around asking complete strangers to sleep with him. And there’s a wrap up that just feels a little too convenient, which adds to questions as to the staging of what you see.
But at heart, there does seem to be honesty fuelling the project, as Waitt lays body and soul bare in a documentary that’s all but guaranteed to be unlike any you’ve seen in years. At its best, it’s hilarious, yet continually interesting, and with a brief 90 minute run time, it doesn’t outstay its welcome either.
Given the subject matter, there would of course be quite a lot of potential for extra feature material. How close did the film come to being canned? What has happened to Waitt since? How has everyone reacted to their portrayal in the film? What was going through Waitt’s mind when he agreed to the project? Does he regret it?
And yet, fatally, none of this is addressed in a disc that’s utterly barren of any extra features whatsoever. To call this a missed opportunity is an epic understatement, and leaves the disc best left as a rental. Because there was an opportunity here to present a brilliant special edition, simply by picking up the ‘what happened next’ story, and you wonder whether Waitt had simply had his fill of baring his soul. That’d be understandable, to be fair. For the film he’s created can’t have been easy for him to sit through in any sense. But it is one of the best documentaries of the year, warts and all.
A Complete History Of My Sexual Failures is out now.