Sundance 2016: Resilience, by David Bax
Back when I did closed captioning for a living, I once had to watch and caption an hour-long promotional video for an insidious pyramid scheme. It was creepy and uncomfortable and I felt bad about having any part in it. James Redford’s Resilience, thankfully, doesn’t contain anything morally questionable. In fact, it’s a documentary with an extremely important message. Yet, while sitting through this glossy and flavorless film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that sickly infomercial I captioned all those years ago.
Redford is looking at the study of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and how they affect mental, physical and behavioral health in adults. Moreover, he is showing us what positive steps are being made in elementary schools all over the country. It’s an important subject marred by the hollowness of the presentation.
Maybe the most persistent annoyance in Resilience is the score, so gratingly soft and inoffensive as to make everything it backs feel insincere. It doesn’t help that most of the doctors and experts interviewed talk more like salespeople than human beings. ACEs is important and the research is stunning but it’s difficult not to be skeptical of these smiling blowhards, especially when their words are accompanied by overly busy graphics (one doctor mentions home visits and a huge chyron that reads “HOME VISITS” shoots across the screen) that feel disingenuous.
When Redford gets out of the way and lets the facts speak for themselves, Resilience improves dramatically. After a viewing, it’s hard to argue against the assertion that an unstable, unhealthy, stressful childhood has disastrous long term effects. The kind of stress these kids experience and that stays with them is something more than any warm bath and scented candles can address. As one doctor says, “There’s stress and then there’s stress.” Hopefully, this film will inspire awareness and activism despite its poisonous blandness.
With its information-heavy, visually noisy approach, Resilience seems to be aiming for something along the lines of Waiting for ‘Superman.’ But what does it say when you can’t even successfully rip off a hack like Davis Guggenheim?