There is not one American child who grew up wanting to be something other than a superhero at some point in their childhood. Most of us grew out of that fantasy when we realized how impractical codpieces were. Others carried it on, and are known as LARPers, or Live Action Role Players. LARPers are the creepy guys at the park that make the guy in the trench coat with candy seem like a good babysitter.
And still others, such as those featured in Matt Ogens' fascinating documentary Confessions of a Superhero, found a way to make money pretending to be superheroes. At least on the outside, anyway.
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Incredible Hulk stalk Hollywood Boulevard, specifically the area outside of Mann's Chinese Theatre. Don't go looking for Lou Ferrigno, Lynda Carter, Christian Bale or Christopher Reeve. (Side note: Lynda Carter, Lou Ferrigno and Christopher Reeve were popular actors in the 80s. The 80s were a decade when your parents did cocaine. Cocaine is what your parents did because Four Loko wasn't around.) No, the faces portraying these characters are decidedly less familiar. Although, Superman does bear quite a resemblance to Mr. Reeve.
These are four struggling actors. Each one hopes that they'll be discovered on the street, which will lead to their big break. Fine theory, although I have to question The Hulk, seeing as he's wearing a giant fucking rubber head.
Ogens' film follows each actor individually as they go about their business. We get to know some more than others. Some we learn too much about. And at least one of them we walk away from the film having learned absolutely nothing of any real value about.
Superman (aka Christopher Dennis)
Mr. Dennis is the film's focal point. He bears the most resemblance to the character he portrays. It's kind of creepy. But far less creepy than his apartment. It's quite literally filled floor-to-ceiling with Superman paraphernalia. I have no doubt that he sometimes signs his checks as Kal-el. Outside of his obsession with all things Man Of Steel, Mr. Dennis comes off as a nice guy, who might be just a bit confused about his life. See, he repeatedly tells us he's the son of actress Sandy Dennis. He talks about how he and his mom were estranged, but reunited on her death bed and he promised her he'd commit himself full time to acting. Nice story. Except for the fact that Ms. Dennis' family is interviewed in the film and say with 100% certainty that she never had a son. Whoops.
We follow Mr. Dennis and his girlfriend, a PhD psychology student (more on her in a bit), to a Superman celebration in Metropolis, Ill, where our Superman fails to win the $1000 grand prize in the look-a-like contest. As they announce the winner's name, you can see his eyes recognizing that his heart is breaking. It's one of the realer moments in the film. Back to his girlfriend. The way she discusses Mr. Dennis, it seems as though she's more interested in studying him than being his wife, which she agrees to when he proposes to her at the Superman celebration. Overall, though, Mr. Dennis comes off as very likable, if not a bit deluded in his aspirations.
Batman (aka Maxwell Allen)
I don't know where to start. Ok. He bears a striking resemblance to George Clooney. Considering he's the worst Batman this side of Val Kilmer, that's probably not a good thing. Mr. Allen tells us that he's had a troubled life. He's been a mafioso bodyguard. An amateur boxer. A stunt driver. A stand-in for Clooney. And he's killed people. Yeah. He drops that gem on his psychiatrist, as he's fully dressed as Batman, completely oblivious of the irony. When the psychiatrist presses for more information, Mr. Allen gets more vague. The bewildered doctor asks if this is a confession, to which Mr. Allen tells him that there's no trace of what happened. Because it was the 80s. Really. When reminded that there's no statute of limitations on MURDER, Mr. Allen finally goes quiet. His own wife instructs us to believe 50% of what he says. One thing we do know, Batman got a temper. We see him accosting tourists for tips (which is a no-no) and ultimately getting arrested. His last scene is him proclaiming that some people deserve to get beaten down, and that's his job. Ok, that does it. I'm officially Team Joker.
Wonder Woman (aka Jennifer Wenger)
The preacher's daughter from Tennessee, Ms. Wenger moves to LA and marries the first man she meets within two weeks. Not surprisingly, we witness her stormy marriage and eventual separation. Her introduction to us is misleading, as she proclaims "sure, a doctor saves lives, but are they remembered? People in the entertainment industry are forever here." She's not as useless as this statement would lead you to believe. In fact, she's quite sweet. She's a horrible Wonder Woman, as she sometimes doesn't even have a cape. But that doesn't stop Superman from taking her back to his place for a shower. Yes. That really happens. Other than that, she's kind of forgettable. Not a good sign if she wishes to stand out in Hollywood.
The Incredible Hulk (Joe McQueen)
Easily the most likable and identifiable of the group. He has no real pretenses of being a leading man. He just wants meaningful work as an actor that doesn't require being in a suit that reaches 130 degrees. Oh, and also, he's a brother. Attn: Hollywood executives. Stop trying to remake The Hulk. This guy is your answer. Cast a brother as a giant ass angry dude out to fix them what's wronged him, market it as a horror movie to middle class white people, and you'll make enough money to make Harry Potter seem like a flop. Mr. McQueen comes from North Carolina, arriving in LA, as luck would have it, in the midst of the Rodney King riots. As he puts it, he did what any other country boy would do, headed for the hills. He remained homeless for the next few years, and when we meet him, he only has a modest apartment, seemingly sleeping in a sleeping bag on his living room floor. But considering where he came from, that's an accomplishment, and he recognizes that. Of the four featured actors, only Mr. McQueen receives a "real" acting gig during the film. He plays a sidekick in a kung-fu spoof movie that may have never came out. But his joy when he learns he's been cast in a real movie translates through the screen, and you celebrate his small victory with him.
Mr. Ogens never heckles his subjects. He could easily expose their false claims (a quick Google search is all it takes), but instead, he asks genuine questions, as if to allow the actors the chance to come clean. None do. But Superman seems to come close in regards to the mystery of who his mother is.
In the beginning, I felt an anger that these people weren't working "real" jobs. As the film progressed, I realized how foolish I sounded dismissing what they do for money as not "real." That's not my call to make. But there is something sad about people attaching their life to that of someone else. Only Superman seems to be genuinely content with what he's doing. That could be more resignation and acceptance that he'll never be the leading man he sees himself as.
But if he (and anyone else) is happy with what they're doing, and there are people who enjoy what they do, then that's all that matters. Confessions of a Superhero is a perfect example of four people, of differing temperaments and personalities, willing to fake it until they make it.