Vincent P. Falk is that type beloved of newspaper columnists, the local eccentric. If you spend any time at all in downtown Chicago, or if you’ve taken any of the boat tours that run along the Chicago River, you’ve probably seen him in his brightly colored suits, perhaps doing his signature spin move. For this engaging doc, director Jennifer Burns starts from the naive position you might have: wondering what his deal is and forming your own hypothesis. Where does he get the money for all those suits? Is he homeless? Is he crazy? Slowly but surely, Burns reveals new aspects of Falk’s life, and each new revelation raises new questions.
Falk’s story seems designed to hit a checklist of our prejudices and anxieties about those who are outside the normal range. He’s clinically blind, with sunken eyes. He has a purposeful but oddly jerky walk. He talks in a rapid-fire but monotone stream. He’s hungry for attention (hence the suits) but keeps people at arm’s length with his puns and performance. Without getting into clinical diagnoses, Burns lets us see that Vincent is both very smart (he works as a computer programmer for Cook County) but also, well, odd. You may throw your own layman diagnosis (high-functioning autistic?), but it seems to be part of the point of this doc that spending time getting to know Falk as an individual makes labels seem reductive and ultimately pointless. Burns could tighten this up a bit, and we could have lived without the overly cutesy score, but this doc gets beyond that “local eccentric” label to suggest that Falk, like anyone else, is a complex person, deserving of acknowledgment rather than pity or derision.