November 11th, 2022
MOVIE: MY SISTER LIV
DIRECTED BY: ALAN HICKS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Films about suicide or suicide attempts have become much more commonplace since Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Apartment, featured a suicide attempt by a character played by Shirley MacLaine and Robert Redford’s similarly Oscar bestowed Ordinary People depicted the after effects of a teenage character played by Timothy Hutton who attempted to end his own life following the accidental drowning death of his brother. In the last two decades, we’ve seen documentaries which cover mental illness leading to suicidal thoughts (Jonathan Caouette’s excellent Tarnation) and accidental overdoses (Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning portrait of Amy Winehouse, Amy) – and these are just some of the best-known titles. Now comes the truly poignant documentary My Sister Liv, directed by Alan Hicks…
This film can be broken down into two parts. The first is an archival based biography of Liv Kunik, with voice over narration in the form of a letter to Liv by her surviving sister Tess. As featured in so many recent documentaries, today there is plenty of live footage of most everyone thanks to home movies, photos, and social media. Hicks pulls together video footage beginning in the early 2000s when Liv was just a baby. For roughly half the film we see her grow up through videos Liv created herself and some which were uploaded to social media. She appears bright, energetic, and hugely talented, with a big voice that can easily belt out a tune. Tess then reflects back to Liv, and to us, about some of the darkness that surrounded Liv: her parents’ separation, being bullied in school, her body image issues, and a sexual assault. Anxiety, OCD, and depression became a major part of Liv’s life yet we don’t really see that in Liv’s own footage. For isn’t it true today that people want to present the best parts of themselves on camera? This section of the film dives deep into what was happening to Liv behind the scenes, retroactively.
The second half of the film focuses on Tess’s attempt at trying to understand what happened with Liv and how she can help other young people who are similarly struggling through their teen years. It’s a very emotional section as both Tess, her mother, and many of the people she interviews are in tears over their own personal pain. Tess also records herself to deal with all of the anger and sadness she and the others have felt.
Then the pandemic hits and Tess begins conducting interviews via Zoom with Liv’s friends, therapists, and others with previous suicide attempts as she forms a youth network and a foundation called The Liv Project to help those in need.
The film addresses the fact that suicide is the number two cause of death among today’s youth between the ages of 10 and 24. It’s an alarming statistic. Some of the interviewees hypothesize that social media addiction, competition, and comparison may be partially to blame. Because everyone’s situation is different, Hicks doesn’t attempt to make broad strokes within the film but he does offer strategies to help today’s struggling youth.
Whether anyone with suicidal thoughts would be helped or triggered by this film and its content is difficult to say. However, I think it helps to raise the awareness that depression, anxiety, and suicide are major issues among today’s youth. The film helps us look beyond the surface people project on social media, and in public, and encourages us to look for the warning signs, ask questions, be a friend, and listen. In that sense the film, while not exactly answering all the questions about Liv’s death, does guide us to be more proactive when we see someone potentially in trouble.
My Sister Live is a sad film but still worth the watch to get to know Liv and her story and to hopefully become much more cognizant of what people around us may be experiencing and needing internally.
MY SISTER LIV HAD ITS NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE AT DOCNYC. IT WILL BE AVAILABLE TO BE STREAMED VIA THE FESTIVAL UNTIL NOVEMBER 27TH AT DOCNYC.NET.
3 1/2 STARS
Written by: Dan Pal