Samuel Kaufman ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
It was six years ago when Garrett Zevgetis got the idea to make this movie. He was looking for a story at the Perkins School For The Blind in Massachusetts, and on his last day there he met Michelle Smith, a vivacious legally blind student with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, otherwise known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Zevgetis filmed Michelle and her family for upwards of two years. The result is Best and Most Beautiful Things, a touching documentary about Michelle that serves as a great reminder that documentaries can be funny, warm, engaging, and brimming with energy.
The film bills itself on exploring three main aspects of Michelle’s personality: She is blind (she has 20/1000 vision, which means she can read large text if it is pressed against her face), she has Asperger’s, and she has found solace and friendship in the BDSM kink community. However, these are not the only things that define Michelle. As much as people try to define her by one characteristic or another, she refuses to be put in those confining boxes. The film explores many aspects of Michelle’s life, weaving an intricate, beautiful tapestry of a human that has a lot going on with Michelle.
Best and Most illustrates this largely with how it is structured. The movie is non-linear, starting in 2014 and jumping back two years to show how they got to that point. Despite her sexual preferences being a main part of the marketing for the movie, Michelle’s sexuality isn’t even hinted at until about 45 minutes into the picture. While this may at first strike people as odd or even poor editing, it is intentional. The film spends just as much time on Michelle’s alternative sexual lifestyle as it does on her love of anime, or her relationship with her family members, or her struggle to find employment. The point is that Michelle is not just a list of oddities; Michelle is Michelle, a multi-faceted, complex, wonderful human.
It would be easy when making this film to focus on only a small number of things about Michelle, but luckily Best and Most Beautiful Things steers clear of that path. The film does a great job fleshing out Michelle’s “character” so as an audience member you very quickly find yourself identifying with Michelle and deeply caring for her. This personal connection adds to the tension that arrises with Michelle as she tries to find employment, and at one point she thinks she has landed a job in LA as a voice actor. While Michelle is overjoyed with this, many of the other people in her life are more cautiously optimistic of the opportunity, fearing that the nature of the job was misunderstood by Michelle, and that things will not be as easy as she believes them to be. The feeling is mutual for the audience. Such intense anxiety is difficult to achieve in a narrative feature, much less a documentary, and the fact that it is pulled off so well speaks volumes about the craft involved with making this film.
In addition to being tense, Best and Most Beautiful Things is often very funny. Again, this is a difficult tightrope to walk in a documentary, but the filmmakers do a commendable job of it. This humor keeps the movie feeling lighthearted and real, without it feeling like a cruel reality TV show. Another success of the film is the camerawork, which often utilizes extreme shallow focus to blur out everything in the frame except for the subject. This style of photography is rarely used in documentaries, but is effective at subtlety putting the viewer in Michelle’s shoes, showing what it must be like to navigate one’s life only seeing the world as a blur.
Best and Most Beautiful Things is the rare documentary that you leave feeling better about the world and yourself than when you walked in. It is well made, honest, moving, and an easy recommendation for anyone.
Overall Grade: A
Best and Most Beautiful Things won IFFBoston’s Special Jury Prize in the Documentary Feature category. The Independent Film Festival Boston runs through May 4th. Visit iffboston.org for more information.
Watch The Trailer