For the first time in the history of my going to SXSW, I finally saw a movie that I hated. I’ve usually been pretty good picking the movies that I see, and I often enjoy the films that I pick to see. But there is very little redeemable about Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. The new documentary from Oscar-nominated director Joe Berlinger chronicles the highly controversial Date With Destiny seminar held in Florida by the titular motivational speaker. I was curious to see the film since Berlinger has a knack for making complex and dark documentaries (he’s behind the brilliant Paradise Lost trilogy), and I was hoping to see that Berlinger could highlight some of the more controversial and questionable tactics that Robbins uses in his seminars. Instead, we get a two-hour puff piece on a man whose made a fortune out of scamming people.
First things first, the 110 minute long film feels like an eternity. I’m fine with documentaries being a little long, but the way that Berlinger swoons over Robbins and his ego makes the film feel like its three hours long. There’s honestly no substance to anything in this documentary, and you don’t leave the theater with a new outlook on Robbins and what he does. I went in knowing that Robbins scams people out of thousands of dollars for these seminars (around $5,000 to attend) and that he doesn’t really do anything that helps these people’s lives. They may think he’s helping, but in actuality not so much.
It’s also very unsettling and creepy to see Robbins the motivational speaker treated as if he’s a god to these people, and they do everything he commands them to. It’s presented as a moving and inspirational moment toward the end, but it rubbed me the wrong way. There were a few of the “believers” in my audience today, and they seemed like they were really getting into the film and Robbins’ practice. I just cringed the whole time and didn’t really get it.
There were a few redeeming qualities to the film however. You have to admire Robbins and his charisma/ability to control an audience like that. Berlinger talked on the red carpet of this film that he wanted to film to play like a concert film, in that everything played in real-time. And some of these moments can actually be pretty exhilarating. There was a genuinely funny moment in the film when a man is very poorly expressing his love for his girlfriend, and Robbins tells him how full of shit he is to his face. He has pretty solid comedic timing, I’ll give him that. But its a weightless and very disappointing documentary. You get the feeling that Robbins was in control of this documentary, not Berlinger. I wanted a more honest and brutal look into this seminar, but all I got was this very disappointing movie. If for some reason you want to see this film, it will be made exclusive to Netflix subscribers later this summer.