Personal History

29 Mar

Smith’s Verdict: ****
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What a special gem this was to behold at the 2023 Kansas City FilmFest International—a wholly original film that made me grin, ponder, and ultimately feel. With a deft and delicate touch given by director/writer/co-star/cinematographer (among other credits to this film alone) Tyler W. Moore, “Personal History” manages to deliver a nicely-observed gentle comedy along the same lines as a Christopher Guest mockumentary crossed into the territory of an existential parable. And I promise to you, I am not making this up…

It even brought a tear to my eye.

Yes, “Personal History” went places that I didn’t expect. And it fooled me, delighted me in doing so, and made me feel things.

“Personal History” is a faux-documentary feature, in which the story is crafted by filmmaker Josh Harmon (Moore). His primary focus is his friend Monica (Samantha Montero), a history major who is researching for a grant and comes across an interesting discovery within a home-building business. Upon close inspection of the business’ photographs from decades past, there seems to be one constant: a man named Arthur D. Perkins (Patrick Poe), who looks exactly the same despite appearing in photos ranging from the 1950s to the modern day.

It’s true, Arthur D. Perkins has not physically aged in over 100 years. As Monica interviews people involved with the business (as documented by Josh, who makes sure to capture on camera everything he feels is important to a certain narrative—the faux-documentary approach really works well here), it’s only by luck that Monica is able to conduct a sit-down interview with Arthur himself.

The initial interview doesn’t quite go as she expected. Despite Arthur having experience serving in both World Wars (WWII was when he started to notice he wasn’t aging), Arthur doesn’t have much to say that is of interest to Monica. But Josh, still documenting the progress, pushes her to dig deeper and capture the true essence of what it means to be immortal.

Where “Personal History” goes from there, I won’t give away. But I will say that where the film goes, once Monica and Josh interview Arthur again and find themselves more into his life, takes the audience along on an emotional journey. We find ourselves questioning the concept of immortality and how we perceive it. We think about how hard it must be to outgrow our loved ones—the best scene in the film illustrates how tough it was for Arthur’s “gift” of immortality to take its toll in his marriage with loving wife Judith (Lolo Loren). (That’s where the aforementioned tear came from.) And when Monica and Josh learn more about what Arthur has done with his long life and how he lives today, they find themselves asking those very questions.

There’s a subplot involving Josh’s sister Mae (Bryna Vogel), with whom he seems to interview with his camera often, that seems ineffectual at first—but then it becomes one of the most emotionally gripping parts of the film. That’s all I’ll say about it.

There are not enough words to describe just how good Patrick Poe is in the role of Arthur. In playing a person who has lived for about 120 years or so, he has the body language down (he moves sort of slowly as if the youth left his looks years or decades ago), he portrays the mix of pain and wisdom in his voice, he makes subtle glances when he’s asked difficult questions, and maintains a calm manner throughout, making me constantly wonder what the character is thinking in this particular moment. I admired Poe’s work in Almost, Sorta, Maybe (which he co-directed with Loren), in which he played a completely different type of character—with “Personal History,” he shows more of his versatility as an actor. He’s great here.

The ending to “Personal History” pulled the rug out from under me (and also a friend who was in the same theater as me). As soon as it was over, I had to approach this talented filmmaker, Tyler W. Moore, and the star, Patrick Poe, both of whom were at the screening I attended, and congratulate them both on a job well done. “Personal History” is a beautiful film.


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