Chris Wilcha helped adapt This American Life to television. His new documentary embodies the spirit of that show as he tries to save a New Jersey record store, in this comic yet deeply moving reflection on opportunities lost and gained.
Twenty years ago, Chris Wilcha was a young filmmaker on the rise. He directed the subversive documentary The Target Shoots First, where he infiltrated the corporate music beast of Columbia House Records. He enjoyed a creative utopia adapting This American Life from radio to television for two seasons. But, like many independent filmmakers, Wilcha couldn’t keep a streak of good luck going. He moved from New York to Los Angeles, where he wound up directing TV commercials to support his family and lost momentum on his passion projects.
In Flipside, Wilcha grapples with all the second-guessing that comes with middle age. He has an epiphany: to return to the New Jersey record store where he worked as a teenage clerk. Perhaps in the dusty stacks of records, he’ll find his youthful zeal. The store is barely hanging on, and Wilcha becomes determined to save it.
In the process of looking back, he gets inspired to revisit the half-finished documentaries that exist only on his hard drives. He pulls up old interviews that no one has seen with creative people who faced their own crossroads, including radio host Ira Glass, writer Starlee Kine, jazz photographer Herman Leonard, and television writer David Milch. The passage of time brings a deeper poignancy to their testimonies.
This American Life has a reputation for featuring skilled storytellers weaving disparate connections into a larger theme. Wilcha embodies this spirit. His quest may be personal, but many viewers will see themselves in it.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival