HOW TO BE (2008)

(a film review by Timothy J. Verret)

HOW TO BE is “the little independent train that could” and does capture the true spirit of the true artist.

The film centers around Art, a musician, who is brooding, contemplative, soul-searching, and disconnected from a life of real meaning. Yes, Art IS an Artist. Artists like Art always ask this question: “Is what I create good enough?” Artists will also go even deeper than that with the fundamentally readjusted question of, “Am I good enough?” So, is the character of Art in this film “good enough?” If you ask Art this question at the beginning of the film, he will answer, “No, no, NO!!!!” At the end, Art will tell you while looking in the mirror, “Go out there and get ’em! You’re not a nobody. You’re a somebody!”

The plot of the film is that Art is very unhappy with his music and with his life and when he reads a self-help book by Dr. Levi Ellington entitled, It’s Not Your Fault, Art sends every last dime of his money to this doctor to hire him as his personal life coach. Art pays the doctor 5000 English pounds, which if my calculations are correct is 6521.74 American dollars. That seems like a lot for a personal life coach, but Art is desperate enough and drastic times do call for drastic measures, don’t they? Dr. Ellington, does in fact, help Art quite a bit to face his past demons, which are really his parents, and his current demons that tell him he is a nobody. “You are a nobody” is any demon’s favorite line! Art has some kooky friends who help along the way, and there is a “new” Art at the end of the film who doesn’t give up on “Art” in the word, “Artist,” and I like that. That inspires me very much. Kinda wish my name was Art so this inspiration would apply to me. “Timothy, go out and get ’em! You are not nobody! You are somebody!” I guess I am Art after all.

Robert Pattinson plays Art. Many of you probably know Pattinson from his claim to fame as the vampire, Edward Cullen, in the film adaptations of author Stephanie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga series. I must admit that I have only seen bits and pieces of these series, so I can’t really comment much on Pattinson’s work in these films. I did, however, see Water for Elephants where Pattinson was the lead, and I liked that film very much and Pattinson, as well. It was my understanding that Pattinson was very good in The Lighthouse with Willem Dafoe, but I haven’t seen that film either. With HOW TO BE, I think Pattinson shines as an actor because he makes Art so accessible to us, so genuinely tenacious in his pursuit for a meaningful existence with meaningful relationships to boot. Art helps us to see the distinction between a “good” artist and a “great” artist. A “good” artist is one who knows the rules and follows them. A “great” artist is one who knows the rules but wants to break them. Writer and director of HOW TO BE, Oliver Irving, along with Pattinson, are “great” artists because they break the rules of this story that could have been wildly formulaic. Instead, they both show great courage by breaking the establishment rules to search out the identity and truth of the artistic life and relationships, only in the end to have searched out the identity and truth of non-artist lives and relationships, as well.

Dr. Livingston in the film drops a bombshell for all of us: “When we can accept that we are truly alone, then we can make something out of our lives.” Of course, this doesn’t mean we should withdraw and isolate from others. What it means is that we really are truly alone (what I like to say as, “We’re just not Home yet”), and that’s going to be okay when we can truly accept this. Many of us have God who we believe in, so we never really, truly are alone. But, in essence, we are alone because while we can feel God all around us, we are often still alone with no one in sight when feeling God this way. I don’t know about you, but I pray alone, and that’s going to be okay. I’m sure all this lonely lamenting that this film brought up for me comes from my “hopeless romantic” vibe, but maybe, just maybe, being alone is not the real issue. Maybe the real issue is that when we know “how to be” who we are and when we know “how to be” loving to ourselves exactly the way we are, we know exactly “how to be” as God intended us to “be.” Art did not profess to knowing or believing God, but Art professed to knowing and believing in himself in the end, and that is probably as close to knowing and believing God as one could possibly “be.”

HOW TO BE is a real gem of an independent film. I HIGHLY recommend it!

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