The heartbreak hits early in Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.
The sight of the country legend watching home movies, seated beside his current wife, Kim, repeatedly asking “Who is that?” and being reminded of his daughters and ex-wives, is absolutely crushing — particularly when the camera fixes on Campbell’s face, and his eyes brim with tears, fighting against his deteriorating mind to recognize his loved ones.
The now 78-year-old Campbell and his family are to be lauded for their willingness to allow director James Keach such unfettered access, portraying Campbell’s decision to go public in 2011 with his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Their openness provides a raw, deeply poignant account of a musical icon wrestling with a cruel illness.
I’ll Be Me follows Campbell as he releases and promotes his 2011 effort, Ghost on the Canvas, his final studio album, undertaking a tour with his children as his backing band.
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Moments that would otherwise be unremarkable in the course of promoting a new project — a spot on The Tonight Show, for instance — become fraught with tension, while the mundane day-to-day minutiae of a tour (Glen harmonizing with his daughter Ashley on the bus) becomes very bittersweet. (Campbell’s farewell to touring did not pass through North Texas.)
Along with the behind-the-scenes footage, Keach speaks with a host of A-list admirers, including Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Kathy Mattea and Jimmy Webb, all of whom express regret over Campbell’s condition, but gratitude for being able to see the musician on stage one last time.
But all the laudatory comments and moments of clarity — in concert, Campbell reels off astonishing guitar lines as though nothing ails him — can’t obscure the aching vulnerability of the documentary’s subject. Bit by maddening bit, life is slipping away from Glen Campbell, and while music helps him keep Alzheimer’s at bay, it can’t save him.
As the man himself puts it at one point: “I have cried and I have laughed — laughing was a hell of a lot better.”
A wrenching document, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is a painful but necessary tribute to a singular talent.
Exclusive: AMC Valley View, Dallas
GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME
* * * * (out of five)
Director: James Keach
Cast: Glen Campbell, Kim Campbell, Ashley Campbell
Rating: PG (thematic elements, brief mild language)
Run time: 105 min.