Flipside is a documentary about its own making. That might sound weird, but it plays magnificently. The film uses the tale of its creation as an opportunity to explore bigger ideas. For the first twenty minutes or so, you think this is going to be an exercise in self-indulgence. Then it gradually morphs into something identifiable – and wonderful.

In 2000, Christopher Wilcha released a movie called The Target Shoots First. It was an entertaining look at his time working for the Columbia Record & Tape Club. Critics praised the film. Wilcha started to make several follow-ups yet abandoned them all, including a doc about a famed jazz photographer, a look at Ira Glass’s This American Life stage show, and a paean to a New Jersey record store. Flipside starts off as his attempt to make himself finish that last one and ends up being a completion of all of them.

The director narrates his own tale, going into detail about how his career got sidetracked by making TV commercials. This was not what he set out to do. Making documentaries was. How could he reconcile his dream with his reality? Now in the middle-age phase of life, he looked back at the unfinished projects and knew the only solution to his malaise was to force himself to bring one to fruition. He went with the idea about Flipside Records, a rundown, kind of dirty store that’s packed to the rafters with rare vinyl.

That’s not what Flipside is, though. Trying to make the record store documentary gets Wilcha thinking about what it means to have a passion, as well as what the costs and benefits of following that passion can be. He interviews various people who are passionate about their work, from noted Hollywood triple threat Judd Apatow, to the owner of Flipside, to Uncle Floyd, the legendary New Jersey cable access show host. Floyd is particularly interesting. Years after his show went kaput, he’s still out there working at trade shows and other gigs many would consider demeaning. Why? Because he loves show business.

These and other disparate elements are seamlessly woven together in Flipside. Wilcha incorporates his other unfinished documentaries into the story. What he ends up with is a picture that works on two levels. On one, it’s a compelling confessional that details his perceived failures as a filmmaker and his subsequent desire to change them. On the other, it’s a totally relatable dive into why the pursuit of dreams is important. Failure to take your shot, Wilcha argues, is nothing less than self-betrayal.

Flipside is often very funny. What I didn’t expect was for it to evoke so much emotion, too. The movie sneaks up on you, and when it’s over, you’re guaranteed to be thinking about your own passions and assessing how well you’ve done in honoring them.

out of four

Flipside is unrated, but contains adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan