SXSW Film Review: Your Friend, Memphis

One man inspires a better view of differently abled people

Your Friend, Memphis

“If life was easy, it wouldn’t be worth living.” That slight twist on typical life-affirming idioms encapsulates the ethos of Memphis, an early 20-something man from Austin and the subject of South by Southwest documentary, Your Friend, Memphis.

For Memphis, living entails the uniquely difficult tribulations of cerebral palsy – a formal diagnosis mentioned exactly once in the 93-minute runtime. Perhaps more relevant, the film follows one young adult male just trying to carve his space in this world. Debut director David Zucker filmed the hard fought, only occasionally hard won, journey over five years; much of the footage takes place in Memphis’ hometown.

Memphis has a small social circle: his parents, his best friend (and crush) Seneca, and a fellow film extra buddy who speaks truth with love and respect. Seneca, a high school senior with operatic aspirations, sweetly says of her dear friend, “He’s going somewhere.” Like most parents worth their salt, Eduardo and Catherine (divorced; not so amicable but dually supportive of their son) just want him to be safe and secure; Memphis, like most young adults, wants to take risks, believe in his dreams, and push boundaries. Mom harps on her kid to vacuum his car, pay his bills, and skip a social mixer to make some money driving for Uber. Dad professes his adoration while confessing his fears: “The world’s gonna treat him like shit because that’s how we are,” and “because he walks and talks like that he’s gonna be rejected, almost universally, and you know, it’s tough.” It is the universal existential angst of any parent of any young adult, with the additional complications of their child living – specifically – in Texas with a disability.

Still, Memphis is almost unflappable.

Iron-willed and not yet jaded, Memphis genuinely believes he’ll be fine, that love not money is the most important thing. He knows he’s capable even when others doubt his abilities, and as his relationship with life evolves, so do his bonds. Despite the slow-but-steady pace, the film centers the important experience of a differently abled person living their life on their terms. Zucker captures palpable awkwardness, lets tender moments ring out, and doesn’t back down during moments that will cause most viewers to brace with expectations of harsh impacts. The film focuses on the painful stumbling blocks of life, the loneliness of unrequited love, and the repercussions of defiance. The message sticks: Memphis is stubborn, but he’s as free as can be.

Your Friend, Memphis

Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere
Sunday, March 13, 5:30pm, 11:30am, AFS Cinema
Wednesday, March 16, 6pm, 1pm, Rollins Theatre
Online: March 12, 9am-March 14, 9am

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