A touching documentary

  • Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, June 1, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

‘Pretty sad, all right … pretty sad.” The words are reflective and considered, spoken by 56-year-old Wally Meyer as he ponders his life. Yet his voice is distorted by the cerebral palsy that affects Wally’s mental and physical condition.

This dilemma – the strain of Wally’s complex humanness against his disability – is at the heart of “Wally,” a feature documentary directed by Bob Fink, an Everett psychiatrist and first-time filmmaker. The film plays at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival (something of a feisty counterpoint to the Seattle International Film Festival) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Seattle’s Market Theater.

When Fink began filming Wally Meyer’s story, Wally had lived in the same Lake Stevens home his entire life. Born with cerebral palsy, he had been sheltered by his parents, despite the fact that Wally had an outgoing personality.

It seems the one practical thing anybody taught Wally was gardening and working in the extensive grounds behind his family’s house. His grandfather taught him to mow, and this has been central to Wally’s sense of himself.

Wally’s parents died within a year of each other earlier this decade. Suddenly, Wally had to face the loss of the only home he’d ever known.

In the middle of this sad story is Wally’s sister Cassie. She admits that while her father was dying, she promised him she’d move into the house and take care of Wally, but this isn’t in the cards – a decision that has left her with a deep sense of guilt.

The film is built around interviews with the people involved, and with Wally’s neighbors, many of whom have been around for years and who know Wally as a neighborhood presence. Everybody seems to want Wally’s story to come out well, but a magic wand that will rescue this situation is noticeably absent.

As an interview subject, Wally himself is never less than engaging. Someone describes him as having the mental state of a 6- to 8-year-old, yet he is observant and funny and has a long memory. And he is, in his own way, shrewd about his coming displacement.

Fink assembles the film straightforwardly, supplementing the interviews with a well-judged use of archival photographs. The story of Wally’s parents is itself fascinating and moving – further proof that when you look into someone’s family tree, you will discover a gold mine of stories and personalities.

The film is reminiscent of “Best Boy” and “Best Man,” two documentaries about a developmentally disabled man named Philly Wohl. “Wally” falls short of that standard, in part because its ending doesn’t seem as complete. When “Wally” ends, its main character is still in a state of transition. We want to know more about where Wally’s journey will take him.

Still, this is an involving and moving documentary. It passes one of the basic tests of this kind of film: When it’s over, you feel richer for having met a unique character.

Archival photo of Wally and Cassie Meyer as children on Santa’s lap: Meyer’s attached note says her childhood-wish was always that her brother would wake up perfect.

Wally Meyer (left) and filmmaker Bob Fink.

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