CONCEIVED AND DIRECTED BY
Chris Bagley & Kim Shively
Reminiscent of the superior documentary "Devil and Daniel Johnston," "Wesley Willis' Joyrides" is the story of Wesley Willis, a free-spirited rapper diagnosed with schizophrenia whose raps vacillated between hilarity and profanity with equal zest. Willis, who died in 2003, is portrayed here much the way Daniel Johnston was portrayed, as a misunderstood and underappreciated musical genius.
Co-directed by Chris Bagley and Kim Shively, "Wesley Willis' Joyrides" often feels literally like a journey through the mind of Willis, complete with unique and inspired interviews flowing through the sort of incoherent animation that must've flowed through Willis's mind. It was only after viewing the film that I discovered that this art that flows throughout the film was actually of Willis' own creation.
Those unfamiliar with Willis, including myself, are likely to be enchanted with his refreshingly honest and vibrant raps, a stark contrast to the oft-troubled life of the musician who began his life in the Chicago projects. "Wesley Willis' Joyrides" takes us intimately inside the rappers world as he interacts with his friends, his fans and his musical peers.
The strength of "Wesley Willis' Joyrides" lies in the inherent inspiration of Willis' story. The weakness, unfortunately, lies in the film's occasionally dizzying imagery and modest production values that detract from the power of the story itself.
Additionally, there was never a single moment in "Wesley Willis' Joyrides" when I wasn't thinking about Daniel Johnston. The story arc, the cinematography and even the imagery often running so parallel that I began to wonder if perhaps these two men might be related.
An official selection of the 2009 Lake County Film Festival, "Wesley Willis' Joyrides" is an inspiring story that will most appeal to musicians, artists and other creative types whose works exist on the fringes.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic