People with disabilities are too often ignored in documentaries, and that’s a shame. You can learn a lot from them, especially of how they look at the world through their eyes, and this year’s Your Friend, Memphis (directed by David P. Zucker) should now be considered one of the definitive ones. It’s a bleak but sympathetic look at one young’s man journey through the often difficult journey of life with cerebral palsy.
Memphis Diangelis is a very determined and optimistic young man, who is trapped between his own ambitions and society’s expectations of what his life should be. He doesn’t let his condition get the better of him. He is a spirited young fellow, but can be pretty stubborn at times (hey, what young man isn’t?). He seeks freedom and promise despite the misgivings of his parents, a father who loves guns, and a mother with bi-polar disorder. They get frustrated with him (as the viewer does as), but they just want the best for him (as the viewer also does). They want him to get a job, make some money, and live independently; they also give him advice (which is tough but realistic). But being the way he is (not looking at it physically but mentally), he’s not willing give up his dreams, even if those dreams should lead him to disaster, especially because of his limited capabilities.
He also has a best friend, Seneca, a recent high school graduate with dreams of being an opera singer, and also of leaving Texas (where they both live). He happens to be in love with her, but she doesn’t reciprocate. This leaves him feeling unattractive and incapable of love. Then there is the fact that the state’s government continually turns him down for SSI, because they don’t feel that he’s disabled. That’s Texas for you.
So, he leaves for L.A. for freedom and to prove that he can live his own life but ends up with pneumonia. Because of this and that he may not be as ready as he thought, he heeds on his parents’ advice, and that’s where the glimmer of hope comes in. In the epilogue, it is revealed that he moved to Arizona and studied towards a degree in web development. He also finds a passion for aviation, and even better, he falls in love.
This doc doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of youth reaching adulthood and the realization that even living with a disability doesn’t automatically grant you a free pass. It also refuses to sugercoat Memphis’ relationship with his parents.