Documentary Review: “Love, Antosha” remembers a beloved young star who died too young

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We probably don’t need a documentary to remind us that Anton Yelchin was the embodiment of Ferris Bueller, Hollywood’s young tyro of a talent, beloved by all — “a righteous dude.”

I remember thinking that when he died back in the summer of 2016. An actor of dazzling range — funny, articulate, passionate about…so many things, great at…so many things. And the best word for him (I interviewed him once or twice, when “Like Crazy” came out most recently) is the one a co-star, Jon Voight uses in “Love, Antosha,” the lovely film about his too, too short life.

“Angelic.”

You will cry at “Love, Antosha.” And you will laugh. Because as the stunning list of famous co-stars and others interviewed for this adoring portrait make clear, the kid was a mystic traveler and yeah, he liked to get his freak on.

Editor turned director Garret Price paints a picture of young Anton as ambitious, rushed, a competitive polymath. Actor after actor, from his “Star Trek” castmates to his indie film co-stars, from contemporaries like Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart to impressed veterans such as Oscar winners Martin Landau, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, speak of feeling forced to reexamine their craft and their commitment to their work and their lives just from working with Yelchin.

“If he didn’t have the countenance he did, he would have been intimidating” by being so good at so many things, ” Bryce Dallas Howard suggests.

J.J. Abrams intimates that Yelchin was the soul of his “Star Trek” franchise, an on-set motivator and example who lifted the acting of everybody he did a scene with.

Zoë Saldana remembers thinking, “My God, this kid is so deep. I’ve got to…get myself together.”

He was in a band, Hammerhead, and a gifted songwriter, guitarist and singer. He piled up 69 screen credits in 27 years and had financing together to direct his first movie — “Travis” would have been an homage to his favorite character and favorite movie, Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver.”

Why the rush? He was born with cystic fibrosis, and every single day was a struggle to breathe, his parents, friends and doctor reveal in the film. Lung clearing, throat clearing – his cough, rarely caught on camera, even in interviews (where was a witty charmer, even as a child actor), could be alarming.

Yelchin knew that life expectancy was not something to be taken for granted (37-40 years), that time was nothing something to waste.

Price uses home movies of the exuberant son of Russian ice dancers who emigrated to America because of rising anti-Semitism in the then-U.S.S.R., clips from his many movies and TV appearances, archived TV interviews Yelchin did — and scores of testimonials from those who worked with him and loved the experience, and loved the person Yelchin was.

Nicolas Cage reads from Yelchin’s daily journal, and his adoring letters and emails to his mother Irina (“Mamoula”) and father Victor “Papoula”), gushing over all they went through to get him to America, to encourage his talent and indulge his passions. We hear Cage get choked up, either as Anton, emotional with thanks for his parents, or as an actor reading an emotional letter and losing himself at what a sweetheart this guy was.

We can’t tell which.

He showed off for the camera and was plotting and planning “movies” long before he went to his first acting class. That smart teacher told his parents “He doesn’t need to be here. He needs to be going to auditions.”

He got so into character on his first big TV break, a little boy who’s just lost his parents on TV’s “ER,” that he wept and wept even after the camera stopped rolling.

“Trek” co-star John Cho worked with him as a child, and stayed friends until they both assumed duties on the U.S.S. Enterprise, and noted how much “older” he seemed as a child actor, how he kept that childish enthusiasm and curiosity as an adult.

Zachary Quinto recalls how taken aback he was to be arguing about the relative folkie merits of Bob Dylan as opposed to Simon & Garfunkel, forgetting for a moment “he’s just a kid.”

And Chris Pine becomes our tour guide to Yelchin’s young, hormonal side — a “lurker” of a photographer who’d visit strip clubs and sex clubs for inspiration and models to use in his art. Mushrooms? He got into them for a while, too.

Simon Pegg adds, “He was a little dirt bird, he was. A naughty boy. As he should have been, at that age. And Ben Foster (they did “Alpha Dog” together) cackles and raises an eyebrow confirming those escapades, and those stories.

Early teen crush Kristen Stewart admits, “He kind of like, broke my heart.”

All of which humanizes a sweet spirit whom one and all canonize.

Frank Langella — “There’s nothing about him that wasn’t wonderful.”

All along the way, we’re treated to a startling filmography — “House of D” to “Like Crazy,” “Fierce People,” “Thoroughbreds,” “Delivering Milo,” “A Man is Mostly Water” and “Rudderless” among the less seen showcases, “Charlie Bartlett” and “Hearts in Atlantis,” “Terminator Salvation” and of course, “Star Trek” among the wider releases.

Every time things get too heavy, with Yelchin’s illness, his depth (check out his journal entry with a pointed and smart take on what the novel “On the Road” is “really” about) and the tragedy that hung over his health gets to be too much, something funny about him turns up.

Abrams recalls how “impossible” it was for the kid to do the “bad Russian accent,” which “doesn’t really exist in the real world,” for “Star Trek” is underscored with outtakes of Yelchin and co-stars busting takes by bursting out laughing at Yelchin’s line-readings.

“Enseeen Aught-or-iz-shun code: nine-five-wictor-wictor-two”

“Love, Antosha” doesn’t break new ground in the celebrity biographical documentary, but it scores over most other examples of the genre simply by virtue of its subject.

Yelchin was a real sweetheart, a deep thinker, a brilliant artist and an inspiration. As one-time co-star Martin Landau notes, in an interview shortly before his own death last year, “I just don’t want him to ever be forgotten.”

“Love, Antosha” helps ensure that won’t happen any time soon.

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MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual content and nudity

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, John Cho, Willem Dafoe, J.J. Abrams, Jodie Foster, Chris Pine, Martin Landau and Robert Downey Jr.

Credits: Directed by Garret Price. An mTuckman Media release.

Running time: 1:32

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