The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Lizzie Velasquez and Malala Yousafzai grew up half a world away from each other, but the paths they took from ordinary girl to international symbol of hope follow some similar ground. Both suffered persecution: Velasquez for her appearance, Yousafzai for her activism. Both chose not to be victims of their attacks, but rather to use their energy and ingenuity to create platforms for peace and understanding.
And both have been the subjects of documentaries that mean well but end up being frustratingly superficial. Last week, we had “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story,” about the young Texas woman with a rare genetic syndrome who was eviscerated online but has since become a motivational speaker and anti-bullying lobbyist. This week, we have “He Named Me Malala,” about the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education but since has become the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Yousafzai’s story is deeply inspiring and already has been the subject of the memoir “I Am Malala,” which provided the basis for director-producer Davis Guggenheim’s film. The fact that she was shot in the head at age 15 while riding home on the school bus and managed not only to survive but also thrive is stunning. That story alone would make her a natural focus for a film like this—but Yousafzai also happens to be incredibly charismatic. With her sweet smile and sly sense of humor, she radiates poise, wisdom and confidence. She is both a magnet and a beacon—and she’s still only 18 years old.
All of which makes “He Named Me Malala” such a disappointment. This is especially true coming from a veteran documentarian like Guggenheim, who won the Academy Award for 2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and also has given us “It Might Get Loud” and “Waiting for `Superman’.” The press notes tout “18 intensive months” of shooting and promise “an intimate portrait” of this extraordinary young woman. But while we do indeed see the normalcy of her home life with her parents and younger brothers and the regular, teenage-girl instincts that exist alongside her courage, we never get a glimpse into her deeper feelings.