Like “American Movie” and “Billy the Kid,” Sean Donnelly’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” makes you squirm at its relationships with its subjects and its audience. I wouldn’t say that, as a documentary, it’s unethical, but it does focus on two people who suffer from unknown degrees of mental illness and, watching it, you have to wonder why they ever agreed to be filmed in the first place.
Jeffery Deane Turner and Kelly McCormick are obsessed with, and in the case of the former, have also stalked former ’80s star Tiffany. Tiffany is the faded pop center of their troubled lives — Turner, who suffers from Asperger syndrome, claims to be in a loving relationship with her and able to communicate with her via radionics, while McCormick, who’s intersex and transitioning to female, believes she’s fated to be with the singer after having a vision of her while in a 16-day coma following a severe bike accident.
Donnelly rarely plays up his pair for laughs. The further the film goes, the less that even seems possible. Turner, who at first looks like merely a moon-faced, talky Santa Cruz eccentric, unveils whole realms of crazy as he expounds on showing up at Tiffany’s emancipation hearing with a sword and chrysanthemums, straps on a helmet to commune with her “nonphysical essence,” explains that her Playboy spread is a declaration of her love for him, and reveals his beloved’s ability to travel through time and to negotiate with aliens. And McCormick, whose physical appearance alone has marked her a social outcast, comes across as less stable still, living in a house with walls bare of anything other than shots of the pop star, drinking heavily, talking of drug use and howling “My destiny is that I’m supposed to be with Tiffany! I have the right to love and be happy!”
Tiffany’s never interviewed in the film, and there’s no real need. For both Turner and McCormick, she’s an ideal, a blank on which to fixate and to project their frustrated longings for someone to adore and understand them. The fact that her heyday was two decades ago, that she’s now performing at free outdoor concerts and in Las Vegas gay bars and signing autographs at pin-up conventions, is never the issue. Their love is eternal, at least until Turner moves on to Alyssa Milano.
Donnelly gives the pair a fair enough shake, but there’s no way around the fact that they come across as grotesques. There is one moment, however, in which he does them a documentary injustice, and that’s when the two are put in contact and end up rooming together and squabbling in Vegas. Both Turner and McCormick are incredibly disturbing and compelling figures already; no extra prodding was needed for that.
[Photo: “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Awesome and Modest/Greener Media, 2008]
+ “I Think We’re Alone Now” (Fantastic Fest)