NYFF57 review: ’45 Seconds on Laughter’ Tim Robbins’ doc brings levity to the lives of those who need it most.

45 SECONDS OF LAUGHTER

  • Tim Robbins
  • 2019
  • USA
  • 95 minutes

North American Premiere

In his contemplative, pared-down, and wildly engaging documentary, Tim Robbins captures a series of extraordinary sessions in which a group of inmates at the Calipatria State maximum-security facility take part in acting exercises that enhance bonding and emotional connection.

Zip. Zap. Zop. This is one of the most familiar improv games for theater nerds all over the country. In the first 20 minutes of Tim Robbins‘ new doc we watch a group of maximum security prisoners experience their very first acting class with The Actor’s Gang Prison Project. Ordinarily divided by race and gang affliction out in the yard, these men from all different backgrounds allow themselves to be free. They allow happiness, vulnerability, doubt, fear, and reflection into their normally regimented day and existence. The human connections and breakthroughs made in an acting class can change the very way you think and process information. It is an outlet that is unique and to see the effect it has on this particular group of people is profound. As the classes progress, they are challenged to emote, not just feign happy or sad, but truly feel anguish, rage, glee. To see men who are oftentimes not allowed to express themselves because of toxic masculinity and their specific surrounding, finally, feel safe enough to do so is truly breathtaking. Robbins and his teaching team, which includes an ex-prisoner, give us a masterclass in this documentary. 45 Seconds of Laughter (which is also how they end each class) is more than a film, it is a brilliant human experience. You will see transformations right in front of your eyes. Destroying boundaries through art, building friendships through mask play, and repairing relationships with loved ones by taking a chance on something completely outside of their comfort zone is nothing short of extraordinary. 45 Seconds of Laughter is a joyous film. Bravo to all.

 

About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.

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