Review by Sean Boelman
With his years-in-the-making documentary Holy Frit, filmmaker Justin S. Monroe has made what is possibly one of the most unexpectedly entertaining works of nonfiction cinema in recent memory. Thanks to a fascinating story and extremely dynamic direction, this is the crowd-pleaser of this year’s festival circuit.
The film tells the story of a talented and optimistic artist working for a small stained glass workshop who manages to score a massive commission despite being woefully unprepared to pull it off. At its core, it’s a pretty basic underdog arc, but the very unusual nature of these events makes it stand out.
At nearly two hours in length, the movie is a bit on the longer side for festival documentaries, but it has no trouble in keeping the audience’s interest. Thanks to the personalities of some of the subjects, the film is really funny, and this keeps the viewer invested on top of the way in which Monroe is able to build suspense.
While the movie is primarily about this artistic endeavor and explores how the artist went about completing this monumental task, it also has some deeper implications. There are several portions of the film which explore environmental, religious, and ethical themes, and Monroe effectively incorporates these into the overall arc.
Monroe makes the wise choice of presenting stained glass artist Tim Carey as a brilliant creator whose main flaw is his ambition that causes him to bite off much more than he is able to chew. We’re definitely rooting for Carey to succeed, but we also can’t help but enjoy the absurdity of the circumstances into which he put himself.
However, even more interesting are the other quirky players involved in this story. From a maestro with the name Narcissus Quagliata to a host of charming and endearing workers who assist Carey on his quest to build this gigantic piece of artwork, these additional stories all add extra layers of emotion or humor to the movie.
The film is also very well-done on a technical level. It is edited in a way that maintains a momentum that is consistently entertaining. And of course, since stained glass is an entirely visual medium, the movie looks gorgeous and colorful, especially when it is highlighting Carey’s creation.
Holy Frit is an absolutely wonderful documentary even though the story may not sound the most exciting on paper. It’s a lot better than anyone would expect it to be, and hopefully the acclaim that it has been picking up will allow it to reach the audience it deserves.
Holy Frit is now streaming online as a part of the 2021 Florida Film Festival, which runs April 8-22 in Orlando, FL.