Twice in 2011, I was fortunate enough to have met actor Anton Yelchin, and I can vouch for the fact that he could talk your ear off about all manner of things, including film history, photography, music and, of course, acting. He was barely in his 20s at the time (once in the early part of the year for the premiere party of Jodie Foster’s The Beaver, and much later in the year after a screening of what ended up being a fairly important film for him personally, Like Crazy). Five years later, at the age of 27, he was gone, killed in the most freakish of car accidents. People still talk about him in the fondest of terms because he left behind a legacy of performances and friendships that live on well past his time on earth.
According to first-time feature director Garret Price’s Love, Antosha, Yelchin made fast and lasting friendships with those with whom he felt a kinship, but none of those relationships held a candle to the closeness he felt with his Russian immigrant parents (and former figure skating champions), especially his mother. They both gave him unconditional support for his entire life, including the moment when he was very young and he decided he wanted to try acting after his father exposed him to some classic (and age-inappropriate) films, such as Taxi Driver.
The filmmakers (including producer Drake Doremus, Yelchin’s Like Crazy director) had complete access to Yelchin’s home movies, personal journals (entries from which are read by Nicolas Cage, which seems weird but actually works), and his oldest, closest friends, so the story of Anton Yelchin feels immersive and complete. Born as Antosha in the Soviet Union, Yelchin and his family came to the United States when he was only six months old; from an early age (and as an only child), Anton was an outgoing and curious kid who scored his first acting role on the series “E.R.” when he was about 11. Before long, he was working alongside Anthony Hopkins in Hearts In Atlantis, Morgan Freeman in Along Came a Spider, and Albert Finney in Delivering Milo.
If Love, Anthosa had strictly looked at his work as an actor, that would have been a hell of a movie. But it also examines his passion for several other artistic outlets including music and photography; Yelchin was on the verge of directing his first feature when he died, which would have added another achievement to an already long list. For those who want to focus on his acting work, there’s plenty here to get excited about, including testimony from a couple of well-known actors who say that working with him at particular points in their careers changed the trajectory of their professional lives by making them better. Kristen Stewart says she was deeply in love with him when they worked together in Fierce People and they stayed close until he “broke her heart” a couple years later. The remarkable tag to that story is that years later, after having his own heart broken by his first serious girlfriend, Yelchin called Stewart to say he now understood what she went through and that he was sorry.
I also loved hearing Jennifer Lawrence (Yelchin’s co-star in The Beaver and Like Crazy) admit that he taught her to do something different with each take rather than do the same thing every time. The story is charming and telling, showing how much he understood that if those around him look good, it makes him look good as well. Love, Antosha allows us to look at the films Yelchin believed were his best, including Alpha Dog (with co-star Ben Foster), Charlie Bartlett (opposite Robert Downey Jr.), Fright Night (during which he was allowed to improvise more than ever before), and director Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Naturally, the documentary leaves plenty of room for the three Star Trek films in which Yelchin played the Russian-born Chekov, and he made some of his deepest and most lasting friendships, in particular with Chris Pine and John Cho (although nearly every member of the core cast and director J.J. Abrams are interviewed here).
Although it rarely impacted his work or the workload he took on, Yelchin was born with cystic fibrosis, requiring a lifetime of treatment and a breathing regimen that he kept secret for his entire life. Living well past his original diagnosis, he still lived under something of a health cloud and believed he wouldn’t live past his 30s, thus pushing him to live life to the fullest and somewhat on the edge, especially with his photography work, which explored dark and remote corners of himself and the world around him (especially in L.A.). It was an extension of his curiosity, but thankfully he had his family to keep him from tipping into an existence that was too risky. The film traces his transition into being a young man, and his naturally deep way of thinking made him quite appealing to all, especially women. He played in a band regularly, and in the last couple years of his life, he began to make movies for himself and concerned himself less with bigger studio works (with Star Trek being the exception). At the time of his death, he had six or seven unreleased movies (including Star Trek Beyond), most of which made their way quietly into art house theaters (such as Thoroughbreds and Porto).
Love, Antosha confirms that Yelchin’s best work was probably still ahead of him but that to have the films he’d already made as part of his filmography is still mightily impressive. The sheer volume of love and admiration people had for him—and that he had for the creative process—radiates off the screen. He counted such elder statesmen as Willem Dafoe, Frank Langella and even the late Martin Landau as his dearest friends, and to hear them talk about him is almost beyond perception. Although the film doesn’t shy away from the more questionable portions of his life, it is a fitting and emotional look at one of the true good guys in the acting profession.
If nothing else, it’s also a testament to the power of having supportive parents who doted on him without being clingy or terrible. Be prepared to cry and likely be introduced to a side of Yelchin you never knew existed. That’s what I’d hoped for out of the doc, and I was in no way disappointed.
The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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