Film Review: FACE 2 FACE (directed by Katharine Brooks)

by Jason Rohrer on July 14, 2012

in Film

Post image for Film Review: FACE 2 FACE (directed by Katharine Brooks)

VICTIM AS NARCISSIST AS ICON

It makes sense to someone who doesn’t like reality television that a person who makes it for a living (The Osbournes, The Simple Life, others) could feel that she has wasted her life, and that such a person could become a drug addict to escape such feelings.  Add that on top of a childhood encompassing serial molestation, homelessness, gender identity issues and rape, and director Katherine Brooks may be understood as an excellent candidate for sympathy, but not necessarily an ideal choice as a video memoirist.

Her 2011 film, Face 2 Face, poses as a document of Ms. Brooks’s 11,000 mile road trip to meet 50 strangers during a bout of acute loneliness.  Ms. Brooks tells us that, following a drug overdose and an unspecified surgery, despite her accumulating 5000 Facebook “friends,” nobody came to visit her during recuperation.  Thus was born her idea to actually engage on-camera with one percent of her social network, as the title would have it, face to face.

It’s a potentially interesting idea, but the road trip is at best a secondary component.  Face 2 Face really is a character study of an extraordinarily self-involved person, a description that also fits a typical addict.  Nearly everything Ms. Brooks says is about herself: her feelings, her injustices, her state of mind, her weight, her addictions.  And most of what her interview subjects have to say is also about her.  When anybody talks about anything else – about themselves or their job or the weather – with a couple of exceptions, it happens in relation to something she wants to talk about, which, again, is usually herself.  Musical montage is a prime motif of this feature, usually constructed from loving shots of Ms. Brooks communing with dogs, horses, and many weeping women, underneath a soundtrack of comfort songs like “The Rose.”

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema film review of Katherine Brooks' Face 2 Face

Ostensibly, then, Face 2 Face contains a very subjective and bittersweet feminine reverie on the nature of human interaction.  And no doubt, there is value here for lonely people who feel marginalized and want to believe that communion is possible between them and an increasingly cyber-oriented society.  It may be difficult, though, to listen to Ms. Brooks’ nonstop philosophical commentary.  “I think technology is disconnecting us all,” she says, and “We spend more time with our computers than we do face to face,” and “People sit there face to face and they’re on their phones.  And that concerns me.”  To tolerate these observations, if one has already made them for oneself or heard such conclusions drawn ad nauseum in the public discourse of the Information Age, requires patience.  So, for some, the so-what quotient of this movie will be an obstacle to getting through it.

To someone who has not had these same thoughts, and who can put up with the excruciating company of a depressive constantly saying Me Me Me, this movie may have a great deal to offer, specifically because of the problems Ms. Brooks brings to her narrative.  Those who identify with her status as a mental health patient, or a victim of sexual predation, or a junkie, might revel in her apparent message of self-actualization through self-pity.  There is no shortage of Americans who feel empowered by identification with their ailments.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema film review of Katherine Brooks' Face 2 Face

One of the (again, potentially) exciting elements of this one-note movie is that its subject/auteur decides to stop smoking and popping Demerol and Xanax in the middle of this for-the-record road trip.  As best one can tell from the fragmented narrative, the decision seems to come following a visit to the deathbed of a lung cancer victim.  Ms. Brooks’ remarkable insensitivity is highlighted when, standing over the very conscious dying woman and flipping through snapshots of healthier times, she points to photos and says “Look.  Smoking.  She’s smoking in this one.”  Astutely, Ms. Brooks notes that her own response to this dying person is primarily narcissistic.  It is a paradox that a person mostly oblivious to her effect on others will miss very little else about herself.  But there are components of Ms. Brooks that may escape some viewers.

An addict is, by way of function, a manipulator.  When that addict is also a filmmaker, the opportunities for invention and self-promotion may overwhelm the responsibility to “document” independently occurring events.  Face 2 Face contains several moments, starting with its opening images of a supposedly just-overdosed Ms. Brooks keening into a handheld camera, which feel staged and unconvincing, even if they’re “real.”  This is because the entire movie is a scream for attention, of the “cry for help” variety.  Yes, this is a woman who’s attempted suicide.  Yes, she has problems.  And yes, much of what she says and does on camera seems designed to heighten the drama of an essentially flat non-story.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema film review of Katherine Brooks' Face 2 Face

So when is it okay to call a lesbian a drama queen?  How appropriate is it to call bullshit on a person with serious issues?  It’s appropriate when to support her and enable her seem like the same action, and when her movie’s just basically a mess.  The editing makes unclear in what order events happen, and so the subject’s emotional journey – the central and only drama – never makes sense; exactly when a clip of Ms. Brooks crying, or one of her laughing, or peeing, took place matters greatly to the timeline of her “recovery.”  Although at one point she insists that she got out of reality TV because it wasn’t as “real” as she wants this film to be, she makes it impossible to tell what’s genuine here and what’s by design.

Ms. Brooks includes in the film a phone call with her lawyer and agent, in which they tell her that her career will be ruined if she makes public this bravely vulnerable chronicle of her shortcomings.  The conversation prompts a relapse.  Ominous title cards indicate that production has come to a halt, and that “Kat” cannot continue the journey; we see her staring into space, staring into camera, threatening suicide.  Then, with no explanation, the trip continues.  The sequence feels so manufactured, contrived and convenient that it’s hard to sympathize with the obvious pain this woman is feeling.  Watching her, I just wanted what even therapists want after spending an hour with a whiner.  It’s not compassionate, maybe, or morally correct, but one just wants this person to start helping herself.  By herself.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema film review of Katherine Brooks' Face 2 Face

Instead, the movie forces us to watch a person so conscious of documenting a very difficult time that every frame feels like a performance, less raw honesty than unpolished, off-putting acting job.  She says, at one point, “I feel like I’ve been through almost everything that you can imagine that hurts. So when people tell me what they’ve gone through I truly can say ‘I know how you feel.’ ”

Well, she knows how she feels, and she knows how other people’s trials make her feel.  But when she listens to the story of a car-fire survivor, or looms over that deathbed, it’s not easy to believe she knows what these people have gone through.  When her visit ends with a “friend” she has just emotionally sandbagged into telling her what she wanted to hear (that her trials have been those of Job), he looks relieved to see her go.  This movie makes clear to me, if not to Ms. Brooks, that she is the kind of unwitting emotional vampire who’s lonely because few who know her can stand her company; she has reinforced her own misery by being miserable.  Maria T. Senger, who rode all those miles in the car with her to film this journey (and did a nice job of it), must be a very resilient person.

Face 2 Face makes gestures toward bringing its wounded subject to a sort of stasis – her big healing moment takes place when the girl she had a crush on in high school apologizes for hurting her feelings, and lo and behold, Ms. Brooks owns that she, too, may have behaved other than perfectly back in the day.  Then, after another montage, she watches the sunset over the Grand Canyon.  Her take?  She’s glad she didn’t kill herself, because she would have missed this journey that saved her life.  How it saved her life is unclear.  But hey.  If it works for you, good.  It does not work for me.

It’s important for a compassionate society to remember that every citizen is on his own trajectory and that not all of us arrive at or even desire the same destinations of emotional maturity.  But norms exist for a reason, and to go too far in celebrating the awkward and confused is to risk emulating them.

Face 2 Face
Big Easy Pictures
screens at Outfest in Los Angeles on July 14, 2012
for more information, visit Face2Face

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Lucy G. July 15, 2012 at 11:29 am

I saw the movie yesterday and I have to disagree with your opinions and review. You obviously missed the entire point of the movie and have no experience of what it is like to suffer from depression or addiction. I give the filmmaker major props for taking the journey and also helping people like me feel less alone in their struggles. I think what makes great reviews is when you can see the good as well as bad and you obviously missed out on the overall message of this thought provoking film. I for one am so thankful she made this film and will tell all my friends to see it.

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Ryan July 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm

To Lucy: The truth in her pain and suffering doesn’t seem to make up for what is lacking in the story being told. This is a film after all. Not a fireside chat. Her experiences may be real and touched you, but that doesn’t make the film good according to this reviewer.

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Ross July 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Lucy, if this film has helped you with your “struggles,” I would take a good look at what those struggles are. Thank you Mr. Rohrer for that review. I would rather read something by your hand than sit through a film such as this. My only problem is that I have “The Rose” repeating in my head.

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ML Licata July 23, 2012 at 6:31 am

I just read your scathing review and feel the need to comment. I was the one who took care of the lung cancer victim until she died. She was my best friend. I asked Kat Brooks to come and interview her so that she could live forever in the film. Her grandchildren will be able to see their grandma on the screen to add to their memories of her. During Kat’s visit, I never felt she was being insensitive and would have said something to her if I’d felt that way. My friend died feeling like a total stranger came into our home cared about her.

As for your review, I see it as your taking one shot after another about Kat Brooks. Your review comes off as a personal attack on her. Sitting here reading it made me wonder why you’d hate her. Maybe you don’t hate her but your review certainly portrays you that way.

Every movie is going to have people who like or don’t like it. Maybe you could have stated that the movie just isn’t for you and left it at that versus eviscerating Ms Brooks the way you did.

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catch June 25, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Absolutely agree with your comments luv.

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Jae August 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Mr. Rohrer’s critique of Katherine Brooks’ documentary, Face 2 Face, fails as a reasonable critique of the film on many levels. It is fairly clear, even from the title, that not only does Mr. Rohrer not like Face 2 Face, but his scathing review of the film appears to be fueled by his seeming hatred of Katherine Brooks. As I read this review, I couldn’t help but lose site of the film to which he professed to “reviewing”, seeing only an amateur attempt at dime store psychology. I couldn’t find one of his opinions that wasn’t rooted in his own bias towards mental health, those on a journey of healing, or perhaps Ms. Brooks herself. I am only left to wonder why it is he has so much contempt for someone who has struggled so much and, contrary to Mr. Rohrer’s assessment, in the end, saved herself?

Perhaps I too am one of the awkward, lonely, and confused people Mr. Rohrer appears to have such a dislike for. I am also an attorney, a board member of various non profit groups, a human rights activist, and many other things our compassionate society may seek to define me with. And yes, Mr. Rohrer, Ms. Brooks’ story saved my life too.

Katherine Brooks’ film is raw, beautiful, courageous, and honest. Many people will be able to relate to it because it covers the gamut of human tragedy. Her story continues to save lives. But one does not need saving to appreciate this story. If you haven’t seen Face 2 Face yet, don’t be discouraged by this review. It is well worth your time to see it and judge for yourself.

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elby August 15, 2012 at 5:01 am

Everyone hating Mr. Rohrer’s review needs to relax. It’s his opinion of the film which he is entitled to, but it just so happens to be my opinion as well. I will go into more detail about why this film and Katherine Brooks are exactly who Mr. Rohrer made her out to be. I was involved with the film, I got an inside look before any of this went mainstream, and I was one of the 50 chosen people. I could not help but notice the way this film, from conception to completion, went in an entirely different direction then what it was supposed to be. It was presented to me as an open minded, great concept, literally an original idea that no one had done before…Meeting 50 people you’ve never met before off Facebook, hearing their stories, getting into their lives, seeing how the other half lives–all things I can relate to, all things I wanted to be involved with.

I got exactly .001% of that from the finished product. The way it was presented to all of us was something anyone with a heart would want to be involved with; she presented it as a way to support people with mental illness, helping to prevent teen suicide (the Trevor project), supporting animal rights (Sarah sanctuary), etc. Thus, we should donate to Kick Starter (which I did). It was almost cult like, and although I found it kind of an odd way to get up the funds for a movie, I myself am an artist and sort of wrapped my head around it, although it still seemed off somehow (she seemed to be praying on peoples’ emotions to get this funded, making people feel special and giving shout outs to those who helped).

Now let me be clear in saying it’s not that I didn’t like Katherine Brooks: I spent the day with her, she was fun, she was a gracious host, she took me out to lunch, we spoke very openly about our opinions, we had a good time. Basically why I protest this movie is because exactly what Mr. Rohrer said, and it is exactly what made me angry. When I sat down to see the movie, I was shocked at how little was in it. The entire story was about her, and had nothing to do with us. If someone besides her was on screen, it tied into something she was feeling or thinking or doing. I saw maybe…what..6 people in the whole film OUT OF 50!!!! That was NOT the way it was presented to me when I heard the concept. She got everyone involved, and everyone basically supported this project (if not with their time then with money), and the end product was basically “The Katherine Brooks Show.”

Oh yeah, on a side note, to further agree with Mr. Rohrer’s review, it was funny the day I was with Kat, she asked me how I became a fan, and I told her I used to watch her video blogs after seeing “Loving Annabelle,” specifically the one video where a guy calls her narcissistic, and she retorts with a video talking about how untrue it was. We literally discussed it, but she had no recollection of it. Just funny that her narcissism seems to be pointed out a lot.

A disappointed fan.

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Jae August 17, 2012 at 9:38 am

Elby –

You raise some good points. I haven’t met her and I likely never will as we move in different circles. I just know that her story had a tremendous impact on my life and, from what I hear, it seems to have done the same for many others.

It bites that you believed that the movie would be one thing and the end result turned out to be quite different. Perhaps Katherine Brooks herself didn’t know what Face 2 Face would ultimately become. It appears that she learned some difficult lessons during her travels and that the 50 of you played a significant role in this. But hindsight is always 20-20. Of all the things Katherine Brooks may be, I don’t perceive her to be a liar. Could it be she would have told you the truth about the project had she herself known what the end result would be?

That said, based on my opinion as someone who has seen the film, and not as one of the 50, I still believe that Face 2 Face is a movie worth watching.

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Elby August 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm

@ Jae, I appreciate you not tearing my head off about the opinion. It was just really disappointing to me to be involved with something that wound up being so self-involved on Kat Brooks’ part. I don’t necessarily think shes a liar per se; her creative direction is her own, but her story is not one of heroes. Shes a regular person with regular issues. I work in a field where I hear horror stories, and people lead very normal lives afterwards, and are more secretive about the things that have happened to them rather then calling attention to it. And from what I’ve gathered and seen, all she does is call attention to what shes been through. If I had a choice in how this movie went, it would be to learn from others’ issues, not just speak about my own. Its a little too “oh woe is me,” ya know? There are people that have been through WAY worse. I work with them everyday and am humbled by how wonderful they actually are as people because of what they’ve been through. Some of the people I know used the things that happened to them to help others; if you read Katherine Brooks’ page, it seems she is only interested in helping herself – sometimes in addition to asking people for money to aid in the projects that help herself, and that to me is disappointing(especially when she is claiming to be something different). I am all for creative thinking, which is why I loved this idea…but can you see why it would be so disappointing to think you’re doing something good and it winds up being something really narcissistic. Go back through her Facebook and watch the videos…you’ll see what I mean. I’m not a mean person by any means; the exact opposite actually. I just have a low tolerance for bullshit.

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Jae August 21, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Elby-

I can understand your point. And I saw no need to rip into you or your opinion. Unlike Mr. Rohrer, at least you had something to back up your statements.

Perhaps we’re both right. You’ve had the opportunity to meet Katherine Brooks but I haven’t. So I have to withhold judgment regarding who she might be in real life. But, personal issues aside, her life story is similar to mine (minus Hollywood) and her story saved my life. So, that’s where I’m coming from.

And kudos to you for doing the sort of work you do. Peace.

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Jae August 22, 2012 at 9:06 am

One last point and then I’ll be finished with my never-ending commentary.

Katherine Brooks gets a lot of heat here for shining the light on her issues. I think what she did was brave and very much needed. I disagree with Rohrer’s review for many reasons, the biggest being that he thinks this film is self-indulgent and that she is but one more person seeking to define herself by her issues.

I believe it is our secrets that define us. We dress them up and offer alternate excuses when we trip over them, all in an effort to conform to societal expectations. What if the only path to sanity was through the doorway that exposed your secrets? Everyone who passes through that doorway passes through it the only way they know how. A filmmaker may shoot a documentary. A poet will write poems. A runner may choose to run a marathon. The result will hopefully be restoration; the journey, however, may not be very pretty. If you don’t like how it looks – don’t watch the movie, don’t read the poems, and run your own race.

Why is Face 2 Face so important? One recent example is that one of the two main political parties is seeking to downplay rape in order to end abortion. That so many people would try to rationalize what has destroyed so many lives is proof that our society is in desperate need of a reality check. Harm isn’t just carried out by individual perpetrators, society too becomes complicit when it simultaneously condones and expects the silence of victims.

So, shine on, Katherine Brooks.

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mary jo poole May 27, 2013 at 1:08 am

Once again, I am glad I watched the movie before reading a review. This is really a shallow review filled with the exact things that the film tries to point out about society particularly the world of hollywood. I think it will benefit a lot more people than this opinion will. Try filling your life with beauty!

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JJ June 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I just watched this film and could not agree more with this review. Maybe it was the way it was marketed in that I expected to hear more from the 50 people than the filmmaker. The entire film centered around the her. It began to feel narcissistic and as though it became a contrived vehicle to revive her own career. Every sentence was so depressing. I would have like a little more lightheartedness – surely the world is not THAT miserable. Excuse me while I go take a Xanax myself to deal with all the depression this film caused me.

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Jane April 4, 2015 at 9:42 pm

Is it really that hard to understand that a lonely person might need some attention? Not everyone can tolerate other people’s pain & loneliness which is sad because that just furthers those people’s pain & loneliness. I find this film review a bit ironic. I don’t get the sense the reviewer understands loneliness or depression enough to even make the connection (the idea that most therapist would rather “whiners” go elsewhere kind of proves my point to that — so not true, I guarantee it to any readers who are worried that is what their therapist might be thinking — a good therapist isn’t thinking that). I agree that at times it was difficult to tell how genuine Kat was being & it did seem insensitive when she kept commenting about the dying woman smoking … the doc has flaws for sure, but parts of it were really good & I think many lonely people would relate to Kat or others in the film (the part about the therapist’s mom who committed suicide was pretty powerful). If anything else, it was nice to see the compassion and tolerance others had for Kat. I would recommend this documentary unless you dislike “whiners”.

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