The Best and Worst Documentaries of the Tribeca Film Festival

Capsule reviews of 24 non-fiction films from the fest, including "The Reagan Show," "Whitney: Can I Be Me," and "Gilbert."

BIO-DOCS

Music industry figures weren’t the only ones getting the profile documentary treatment, of course, and these docs took on three fascinating figures with varying success.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Hedy Lamarr led a thrilling, all-over-the-place life: an immigrant whose movie fame rose and fell even more than most, who suffered through many marriages and more than her share of tragedy. Oh, and during WWII, Lamarr invented “frequency hopping,” a defensive technology that found its way into wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, and cell phones. This American Masters-branded documentary profile gives full attention to all of her peaks and valleys, so it’s of interest to cinephiles, war buffs, and feminists alike. But its real heart is in its closing passages, in which director Alexandra Dean lays out the rediscovery of Lamarr’s invention, and her subsequent public reintroduction, in the 1990s; it’s moving and inspiring, and just the right closing note for this engaging profile.

Gilbert

Neil Berkeley’s documentary profile of Gilbert Gottfried is a funny movie about a funny person, which is more of a rarity than it should be. He offers up a peek at the real guy behind the screeching persona/character, a guy the comic has purposefully kept walled off (and still seem reluctant to reveal). So we get scenes of him interacting with wife Dara and their two kids (and not interacting; it’s not explicitly stated, but Gottfried definitely seems to fall somewhere on the spectrum), and plenty of life on the road, working clubs, giving interviews, even doing a “comedy cruise.” Serious subject matters reveals itself organically, as in life, but with Gottfried, a big laugh is never long in coming. An appealing, amusing look at a true original.

Frank Serpico

Frank Serpico was the New York cop who blew the whistle on corruption in the department during the Knapp Commission hearings back in 1971 – a story anyone who’d see this documentary already knows from the Al Pacino-fronted Sidney Lumet film about him two years later. And that familiarity is a handicap Antonino D’Ambrosio’s documentary can’t quite overcome. (It also leaves out some, um, troubling elements of Serpico’s current persona.) But those who liked that film will most likely enjoy this one, as Mr. Serpico wanders his old haunts, tells the story of his life and near-death, and shares some gossip about the making of the movie. Director D’Ambrosio even uses clips from Serpico as illustration – which helps, but can make this film feel, at times, like a DVD special feature for that one.