“Screw you, why wasn’t my kid in the game?”
When you hear about a documentary featuring Jim Breuer on his first stand-up tour in six years, you think pot jokes, Goat Boy, and plenty of laughs. The last thing you’d expect is a film that pushes the concert aspect to the background in lieu of a poignant tale of family, love, and compassion. William Philbin’s More Than Me shows how this tour is not a cash grab or attempt to restart a career—Breuer is doing quite well on Sirius Radio—but instead a 30-day jaunt that will let his 84-year old father have an opportunity to ‘play’, something all people need. Jim Sr.—World War II veteran, one of ten children growing up without a mother and with a drunkard father, divorced after having three kids—hobbles along on a cane, yet is feisty as ever, showing the kind of rapport with his son that belies a career choice landing him on “Saturday Night Live”. This film is a tribute to a man who never complained when he had many reasons to do so and to the self-proclaimed best chapter of Breuer’s life, volunteering to be his dad’s 24/7 caregiver and becoming closer to him than he ever imagined possible.
Introducing the screening at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, Breuer kept things fun by talking up his friend Philbin, the man who decided that the raw footage shot could be edited together into a 66-minute opus to family. We catch glimpses of the performances, mostly when the joke concerns Jim Sr. who either sits first row or sometimes on stage with his son. Anecdotes about when he met Sylvester Stallone and Lorne Michaels kill and to see the silent grin on the old man’s face is a real joy. Never one to show affection—and with a childhood like his it’s not surprising—his relationship with Jim is more playful and buddy-buddy than any grandstanding of ‘I love yous’ or hugs and kisses. In fact, as Breuer relates, it took over a year of ending phone conversations with those three words before his father finally would gruffly return the phrase. But none of that concerned the comedian; he always knew his father loved him in his own way. The fact that Jim Sr. never forgot Jim when his dementia left other children and distant family rarely seen erased, proved that their bond was real and worth enhancing.
Breuer has an amazing handle on the good deed he is doing, accepting the more disgusting parts of the job—washing his father, clothing him, and helping with his hard to control digestive system—due to the payoff of conversation and humor. Questions about the war are aplenty and Jim Sr.’s answers never cease to entertain. What was the worse place you were stationed? “They were all worse.” What would you do in the jungle? “Wait in case some whores came out.” Out of the jungle? “Yeah.” What age would you return to if you had the chance? “Whenever it was I was getting the most hump.” What age was that? “Six.” Gems fly out of his mouth and Breuer loves every moment, a permanent smile on his face as his father—affectionately called “Muff”—shows just as good timing as his son. Even when raspy yells and an angry face look to be annoyed at Breuer’s voices or games with his cane, the duo always find a place where the joke of the situation can supercede any generational gap or feeling of being stuck in the situation they find themselves in.
Jim Sr. is a great mix of gruff exterior and big heart. Breuer lets his audience know the subtle tells of happiness to look for, and we do begin to understand just how much this tour and being with his son means. Jim never realized how old his father was growing up until kids would ask if he was his grandfather and adults tried to correct him with Vietnam when he told them his dad fought in WWII. At almost twice his age during filming, Jim Sr.’s fragility is obvious and Jim Jr.’s refusal to let it effect either of them admirable. He isn’t in this to pity the old man or belittle his dignity, if his father doesn’t want help, he is left to do it himself. There is a great mutual respect and it only helps the jokes become more effective because despite the surface anger and plethora of cursing, Jim Sr. truly does find himself having fun. And with moments of high emotion on the part of Breuer when the subject of his father’s mortality crop up, it really is a pleasure to watch him be able to spend this time, to cement this hero’s legacy onto film, and show the world just how great a man Jim Breuer Sr. is.