Love, Antosha: Dear Friend, by David Bax
Assuming you’re familiar with the fact and nature of Anton Yelchin’s early death in 2016–which you almost certainly are if you’ve chosen to watch a documentary about him–an oppressive, inescapable sense of tragedy pervades every second of Garret Price’s Love, Antosha. Even though it focuses almost entirely on the joy he drew from life and that which he gave to others, I spent nearly the entire film with tears in my eyes. Price has given all of us who have mourned Yelchin as an artist the opportunity to mourn him as a friend.
Love, Antosha is composed of nearly equal parts existing footage and new interviews. It’s also told in pretty strict chronology, leaving the ending you know is coming lurking in the shadows up ahead.
As for those interviews, Love, Antosha is a star-studded affair. Though the largest and most illuminating allotment of time is given over to his parents (and a few warm words from his childhood friends), the truth is that Yelchin has been acting alongside big names since childhood. Willem Dafoe, Jodie Foster, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pine, John Cho, Martin Landau, Frank Langella, Jennifer Lawrence, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Kristen Stewart and others all give their time to remember him for us (though no one from Showtime’s Huff, where I first became familiar with him). Narration from Yelchin’s own letters and journals is read by Nicolas Cage. Some of the most touching appearances, though, come in the form of a very young Yelchin acting alongside Albert Finney or Robin Williams, who have also left us.
For as much of his life as he spent in front of a camera–giving us footage of him dancing as a boy as well as being interviewed as a professional actor–he spent a good deal of time behind one too. As a cinephile, he idolized DPs, writing about Michael Ballhaus and others in his journals. In his twenties, he became an adventurous amateur photographer, capturing the seedy parts of his San Fernando Valley hometown that we can’t imagine the curly-haired moppet of the movie’s first half hour frequenting.
It’s Price’s good fortune, of course, that Yelchin was such a prolific writer, photographer and overall chronicler of his own life. But, more importantly, its a testament to his insatiable hunger for experience and deeper understanding. A talented guitarist, he would sometimes jam with Pine during downtime on the Star Trek films but, Pine relates, he begged off their sessions once because he was in the middle of translating some Russian literature. As a native Russian, he spoke the language fluently. Oh and, another thing you probably didn’t know about him: He lived his life with cystic fibrosis, something only his friends and family knew until after his death.
Now we know too, largely thanks to how often he wrote about it to his mother. The most impactful part of Love, Antosha is the revelation that Yelchin was closer to no one in the world than his “mamoola,” who still wears her son’s denim jacket, refusing to remove the parking ticket and the condoms from the pocket. One thread that runs through the movie, as testified to by Stewart, Lawrence and most of the Star Trek cast, is that he made the people around him try harder and be better. Love, Antosha is a tribute to a great artist but also a tribute to the loving woman who formed him.