Review by Sean Boelman
Audiences may not recognize the name of documentarian Louie Schwartzberg, but he has directed some of the most influential nature documentaries of the past two decades — including the 2016 version of the Disney ride video Soarin’ Around the World. His newest film, Gratitude Revealed, takes a more philosophical angle but is no less appealing to the eye.
Like the highly-acclaimed Fantastic Fungi, the biggest strength of Schwartzberg’s newest movie is its beautiful nature cinematography. Although this film is much more scattershot with what it depicts — a majority of the imagery being loosely-connected shots of people living in harmony with nature — it is a joy to look at nonetheless.
Indeed, this is the type of movie that audiences will likely enjoy the most if they put it on after a long day at work and simply want to unwind with something relaxing and radiating positivity. It’s not a film that requires much complex thought, encouraging quiet introspection rather than challenging the viewer’s entire way of being.
There is no denying that Schwartzberg’s message of finding joy and importance in the little things of life is a positive one that audiences need to hear, but did there really need to be an eighty-minute documentary about it? Schwartzberg is using the opportunity of the movie’s release to ignite what he calls “World Gratitude Day,” and in a way, the film almost feels more like a promotional tool for that than a documentary in its own right.
For interviews, Schwartzberg consults people from all walks of life, from famous people like Norman Lear to everyday people who simply excel at what they do. For the former, Schwartzberg likely called in a few favors with friends and asked them to appear in a movie supporting this wholly agreeable message.
At a certain point, the audience will begin to question whether the information that the interviewees are spouting is true wisdom, or if it is just them rambling. Many of the subjects make decent points and interesting arguments, but others speak in vaguely philosophical rhetoric that doesn’t mean much of anything when it is put under scrutiny.
Schwartzberg discusses in the opening moments of the film how his first experiences with the idea of gratitude were thanks to his family’s experience as Holocaust survivors. It’s clear that he embarked on the journey of making this movie in the search of some greater form of enlightenment — and it seems as if the process was certainly very cathartic for him.
However, for most viewers who will end up watching Gratitude Revealed, it is hardly a spiritual experience. Schwartzberg once again delivers what is some of the most gorgeous cinematography possible in nonfiction filmmaking, but in terms of content, the film is far less profound than Schwartzberg thinks it is.
Gratitude Revealed hits theaters on September 16.