Hot Docs Review: It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise (2015, Matt Wolf)

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Though it’s cute and wise-cracking, It’s Me, Hilary is a messy documentary that couldn’t find its purpose in thirty minutes. There’s the obvious: the documentary’s executive producer Lena Dunham has always loved Eloise, the fictional little girl who lived in the Plaza Hotel, so much that she has a tattoo of the character on her back. The artist who drew Eloise, Hilary Knight, is still alive and uppity, and the two formed a friendship. There’s the rest: the history of how Eloise came to be, the drama behind the franchise, Hilary’s characteristics and art, what Hilary is doing now, how much Eloise meant to other famous women (seconds-long quotes given to Tavi Gevinson, Fran Lebowitz and Mindy Kaling), etc. Each topic is interesting enough, but thrown together made for a lack in flow. If the documentary was more focused, it would be easier and more enjoyable to digest.

It seems Lena and Hilary were drawn to each other for their similar personalities of embracing the inner child, much like the way Hilary was drawn to Kay Thompson, the famous actress who wrote Eloise’s story. Lena and Hilary giggle about their friendship, but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone else except them. Underneath all the cramped topics lies a self-serving feeling that’s hard to shake. Lena herself has a generous amount of screen time talking about what this all means to her. (This surprises no one.)

Hilary is an odd duck, and he’s funny. He’s a great artist, and as he admits to the camera, “I’m excellent at fucking off.” He creates what he can and has fun with it. A funny scene unfolds as he makes a home video of his friends dressed as a mermaid and a frog. Lena’s there. He generally seems to be an interesting person to be around. But trying to make him seem like this epic person in that tone of voice you use in documentary interviews falls a little flat. It ends up mirroring how discombobulated he is.

You won’t be cursing losing a half hour of your life or anything, and you may feel intrigued to do your own research on Hilary, Kay and Eloise. Personally, I found the history of the franchise to be more interesting. If anything, the documentary could’ve been a lot better if it had more time. It just took on too much when it should’ve focused on some core elements – rather than feeling like a report on a person you’d do for school, it could’ve unpacked more importance. We want to know why we should be interested, not why Lena is.

It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise screens again at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 on Wed, Apr 29 @ 4:15 PM and Fri, May 1 @ 4:15 PM.

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Posted on by jessica in Hot Docs

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