Group Therapy [Tribeca Festival Review]

Many famous comedians have talked about their mental health struggles over the years. Often, the way their diagnoses affect them helps to shape their comedic outlook. Group Therapy, which had its world premiere as part of the Spotlight+ section of the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival, gets as real on the issue as can be. Director Neil Berkeley’s documentary will make you laugh and get choked up simultaneously.

The concept is ingenious. Six noted stand-up comedians – Tig Notaro, Gary Gulman, Nicole Byer, Mike Birbiglia, London Hughes, and Atsuko Okatsuka – come together for a therapy session moderated by actor Neil Patrick Harris. The subject, of course, is mental illness, which all of them deal with. Intercut with the group discussion are solo interviews and one-on-one backstage conversations with various pairings of the participants.

Everyone is willing to be open about their experiences, allowing for a sense of intimacy. Gulman, for example, talks about standing on top of a building and thinking about jumping during an especially intense episode of depression. Notaro reveals a series of life tragedies, from cancer to infertility, that she’s had to figure out a way to get through. Everyone on the panel has a touching story, and their candidness guarantees you’re hooked on every word.

Group Therapy is not a downer, however. Although mental health struggles are explored in detail, the members also focus on how they’ve dealt with depression, anxiety, and other diagnoses through their comedy. Trying to turn painful incidents into something laugh-worthy has proven cathartic for them and for their audiences, as well. We’ve all heard the cliché “laughter is the best medicine.” The film makes clear just how true that is. Medicine and therapy will help, but humor can be an additional lifesaver.

Briskly paced and filled with both poignancy and hilarious bantering between the comedians, Group Therapy is an important, entertaining film that needs to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s one of 2024’s best documentary features.

Group Therapy

Group Therapy is unrated, but contains strong language and mature subject matter. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan