“I was raised to love cinema, and I sort of never imaged I would do anything but make movies.” — Anton Yelchin
Love, Antosha’s opening scene destroyed me. In the clip, a super-young (maybe 7? 8?) Anton Yelchin is being filmed on an old video camera talking about a superhero movie he’s making with his Papoola (dad) and Mamoola (mom), Viktor and Irena Yelchin, former professional Russian ice skaters. The James Bond theme plays in the background as Anton smiles and dances in his pajamas.
I had to pause the film for a moment because I was crying so hard that I couldn’t see the television. It’s a beautiful and darling scene but heartbreaking at the same time since we know Anton’s unfair tragic end at such a young age of 27. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish the movie. For Anton, I hit “play” and spent the rest of the running time smiling and laughing. I’m glad I persevered and finished because Love, Antosha is one of the most beautiful documentaries on someone’s life I’ve ever seen.
When the end credits rolled, I sat there in silence, and all I could think about was, “How am I going to review this captivating but heart-wrenching documentary and sell this movie that’s going to break hearts and warm them at the same time?” This documentary is going to make you fall in love with a pseudo-stranger harder than you ever thought you would. Anton lived an extraordinary life and was a real treasure, and director Garret Price knew this. I’m here to tell you that watching this film is worth the tears and smiles. Love, Antosha celebrates how much Anton loved acting and his many talents — he was a dedicated and focused wunderkind.
Love, Antosha is perfectly braided together with footage Anton filmed himself throughout his life, clips and stills from movies he was in, photos, a voiceover of his journals (provided by Nicolas Cage and Sir Anthony Hopkins), and funny and heartwarming anecdotes from his parents, friends, and some of the most famous people in Hollywood and the world. We also learn that Anton had more to offer than acting — he was a musician, photographer, and writer.
Love, Antosha doesn’t shy away from Anton’s life challenges and fears. He was diagnosed at a very young age with cystic fibrosis and wasn’t expected to live very long. He often had to take breaks while filming movies for a literal breather. His health is something he never talked about with anyone (except his Mamoola and Papoola) because he wanted to work and didn’t want this to slow him down. He was afraid he would lose jobs if the industry found out that he had cystic fibrosis. He was also afraid it was going to take his life. He had many doctors and a respiratory therapist — he was determined to kick this disease’s ass, and he did.
The most important takeaway from Love, Antosha is his powerful relationship with his parents. Anton was born to act and knew since he was a child that acting is what he wanted to do. His parents sacrificed everything so he could achieve his dream. He would always write letters to his mom and sign them, “Love, Antosha.” One heartwarming and funny scene in the documentary is his mother telling us a story about when Anton was hired for a part in Alpha Dog. Anton was worried because his character had to be drunk, and he never drank before. His mom told him in her funny way that that’s the point of acting, that he didn’t have to really be drunk for the scene. But Anton wanted to know what drinking felt like. He sent his mom a video of him filming himself drinking liquor, and he makes that face everyone makes when they drink alcohol for the first time. While filming and drinking, he talks to the camera (i.e., his mom) about how it’s making him feel. They were that close, and he made sure to continually remind them that he recognizes they sacrificed a lot so he could achieve his dream and always wrote notes thanking them.
I’ve never seen a documentary about an actor that has so many prominent and famous talking heads before, telling anecdotes about their time with the dearly departed: Kristen Stewart, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Martin Landau, Joe Dante, Guillermo del Toro, Chris Pine, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence, and one of the busiest people in Hollywood, J.J. Abrams, plus Hopkins and Cage, to name a few. So many prominent and talented faces in Hollywood who no doubt have ferociously busy schedules took time out to be in this documentary and tell stories about him. This shows what a standup and beloved guy Anton was. His 27 years was truly marvelous.
Love, Antosha is sometimes tough to watch but is consistent to make sure you smile and empathize with the trials and triumphs of Anton that not many knew. Somehow, Love, Antosha discovers solace in grieving. The film is a swift reminder of how precious our time is. It’s a love letter to Anton, and it’s a remarkable documentary on his life.
Price does an exceptional job focusing on the joyous parts of Anton’s life, showing this wunderkind’s potential at such a young age, as well as the trouble he faced as an actor. Anton loved the art of making movies, and much like the late, irreplaceable Heath Ledger, Anton captured everything he could on a video camera. Anton made a lot of his own movies when he was young. We learn he had a lot of talent in his bones through Love, Antosha — and he was about to make his directorial debut.
Anton died on June 19, 2016, in an unfair and bizarre accident: While his jeep’s faulty gearshift was in park, it malfunctioned and rolled backward when he was out of and behind it, and it crushed him against his security gate, killing him. What’s so upsetting about Anton’s death is that he battled cystic fibrosis his whole life, a scary and potentially lethal lung disorder. He fought so hard to live, fought so hard to breathe only to die by blunt traumatic asphyxiation. To give you a mental image: He basically drowned above water. This is tragic and unfair. (But we live in a painful and unjust world.) Chris Pine shares how I feel when he says, “Out of all fucking things, that’s it? This little spot in the universe caught my friend?” Fiat Chrysler, the company that created and sold the jeep that killed him, announced a recall seven days after his death.
Anton was robbed of a long life and prestigious career, but Price paints a beautiful portrait of him that ensures his cinematic legacy will not be forgotten. Love, Antosha will yank out some tears. However, Price was sure not to let Anton’s death define him. We will remember him as a promising young actor who left behind a treasure of movies that will be watched over and over.
Visit Anton Yelchin Foundation, a nonprofit started by his parents dedicated to “empowering and supporting young people engaged in creative arts who face career challenges due to debilitating disease or disability.”
Love, Antosha opens at the Grand Berry Theater on September 27 and runs through September 29. Get tickets here.
Full disclosure: The author of this review works with the Grand Berry theater as a programmer.