He Named Me Malala full movie review - "He Named Me Malala" requires the audience to decipher its disjointed presentation in order to appreciate its compelling subject.
The job of a documentary is to clearly and compellingly tell its audience about an issue, event, location, story or person, reinforcing what is widely known, adding to that knowledge and providing valuable new insights.
Davis Guggenheim's documentary "He Name Me Malala" (PG-13, 1:27) does some of that. The story of Malala Yousafzai is important and powerful on its own. It should be easy for any documentary filmmaker to tell Malala's story. It'd be difficult to mess it up? or so I thought before seeing this film.
Here's what most of this film's audience members probably already knew about Guggenheim's subject before seeing his documentary: Malala is a Pakistani teenager who has spent several years boldly speaking out in favor of the education of girls living in her home country and all around the world. The Pakistani Taliban, whose strict interpretation of Islam severely limits education for females, targeted Malala for assassination. When she was still just 15-years-old, a gunman boarded her bus and shot Malala in the head, but the bullet didn't kill her. After an intensive international effort to save her life and help her recover from her wounds, Malala became further emboldened for her cause. Her story and resulting fame led her to meet Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama and to speak at the United Nations and at events all over the world. In 2013, she published her memoir "I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban", co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb. In 2014, Malala was announced as the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2015, she became the subject of a disappointing documentary feature film.
For anyone interested in Malala's story, the well-known facts of her life lead to other questions, the kind that a documentary can and should answer. What kind of person is Malala Yousafzai? What's her family like? Who's the "he" of the film's title and what's the significance of Malala's name? What role have her parents played in her global activism and how do they feel about everything that has happened to their daughter? How does a teenage girl deal with such fame and responsibility? Why did the Taliban consider Malala so much of a threat in the first place? What were the circumstances surrounding her shooting and recovery? What, if any, are the lasting effects of her injuries? How does she feel about the attempt on her life and those who perpetrated it? What happened to Malala after she got out of the hospital? How has she been advocating since? Where is she now and what are her plans for the future? Guggenheim's documentary answers all these questions and more ? if you're willing to wade through his haphazard presentation about Malala's life and try to decipher the movie as you watch it.
This documentary starts well and ends well, but most of it is an incoherent mess. In the first scene, we hear Malala telling the story of her namesake, the Afghani Pashtun folk hero Malalai, and we see a stylistically animated version of the legend of Malalai of Maiwand. Then we see Malala Yousafzai being a typical teenager ? teasing her brothers, struggling in school, talking about her hopes and dreams. Throughout the movie, with the help of some appealing animation, we get more background about her and her family, what her life was like in Pakistan's Swat Valley and why she spoke out against the Taliban. We hear details of the attempt on her life, we see news footage of the aftermath and we get a glimpse of what it's like to be arguably the world's most famous and respected teenager. By the end of the film, we hear the announcement of her selection for the Nobel Peace Prize and we're left with a greater appreciation of her struggles, her accomplishments and her continuing efforts. The major elements of Malala's story are portrayed, many questions are answered and insights are gained. The components of an excellent documentary are all there, but the film goes badly wrong in its presentation.
"He Called Me Malala" tells Malala's story as if it were a puzzle that audience members are expected to piece together for themselves. Non-linear story-telling with well-timed reveals can make for a very interesting movie ? documentary, dramatization or fiction ? but can also be confusing and unsatisfying. This film is the latter. Most of the editing feels completely random. For example, a scene from Malala's home life might be followed by a speech she made, then by an unrelated interview segment with her father and then by Malala talking about her shooting, from the middle of the story, only to suddenly leave the story unfinished until we sit through more random bits of information and exposition. All this diminishes the importance of the elements the film presents and makes it difficult to follow the narrative of Malala's life ? or even know if all your questions about Malala were answered.
Maybe it's just me, but sabotaging your own film in the name of innovating story-telling seems like a bad idea ? and isn't the way that we're used to seeing the talented and accomplished Davis Guggenheim do business. In "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006), Guggenheim turned what was basically a V.I.P. lecture about global warming into a must-see documentary and won an Oscar for his efforts. In 2010's "Waiting for 'Superman'", he turned his talents to the subject of public education and make its problems very personal to his audience. It's surprising and disappointing to see how poorly planned and executed that this documentary turned out to be. Malala and her cause deserve better and so does the audience. "C"