Prodigies have the unenviable position of living their entire life under the heavy expectations of the world and their ownselves while always being at the risk of peaking too early and looking back at mere possibilities of what could have been. While career documentaries on prodigies have been done plenty of times before, what sets Bobbi Jo Hart’s “I Am Not a Rock Star” apart from the rest of the crowd is the singular focus it puts on its’ central prodigy Marika Bournaki life and her dedication towards her craft as she grows older.
An incredibly talented pianist right from young age, the film covers eight years in Marika’s life tracing her rise to fame and the trials and tribulations the lifestyle and expectations that came along with it.
…what I Am Not a Rock Star lacks in ambition it makes up for it with moments of honesty.
Having played at Carnegie Hall and many other famous venues by the young age of 12, Marika initially revels in the limelight and adapts to her lifestyle where she often has to tour to different places across the continent always showered with praise and surprised admiration by the adults in her audience. In an early scene, the film showcases just how vulnerable child prodigies can be to sensible criticism by those in the audience, always just a step away from self-doubt.
Documented in the traditional manner that switches between slice-of-life sequences of Marika’s performances and life and conversations she has to the camera and the documenter, presumably Hart herself, what I Am Not a Rock Star lacks in ambition it makes up for it with moments of honesty.
Throughout the film’s run of 129 odd minutes, Hart’s camera manages to capture some moments of beauty and painful struggle that an artist always faces, but seeing a young teenager like Marika face it, ties her creative struggle perfectly with the search for her own identity. Promoted by supportive parents, particularly her father, Pierre, who himself was a former classically-trained violinist who doubles as her manager and goes along with her wherever she tours. Pierre comes across as the caring yet ambitious parent who pushes their talented child just enough to bring the best out of them. But as Marika grows into her teens and eventually out of it, the arguments and disagreements between both escalate as his ambition conflicts with her own sense of independence.
It’s this neat connection between search for artistic purpose and a coming-of-age tale that this film ties across in an admirable fashion. It takes its time with it, the initial years with Marika behaving as the child who thinks her parents know the best for her until eventually the cynicism of teens makes her question everything including her own purpose behind her craft.
It’s this neat connection between search for artistic purpose and a coming-of-age tale that this film ties across in an admirable fashion.
The title of the film is drawn from a crucial central scene involving a conversation between a concerned Pierre and a displeased Marika who lashes out at her hectic “touring lifestyle” saying “I am not a rockstar”. It is the clearest and most visible sign of a teenager breaking free from the identity that her parents wished to carve for her. Like any coming-of-age tale, Marika dives headfirst into such questions before eventually discovering a new purpose in doing what she has always enjoyed.
Such creative struggle is neatly contrasted with the effect Marika’s meteoric rise to fame have on those around her. The incredible investment of time and energy her parents put into her career meant her siblings were always living under her shadow. A beautiful scene sees Marika’s mother describing her guilt when she overhears a conversation between the siblings saying how Marika is more important than them.
It’s also a very relatable documentary to anyone who has ever had a creative career or even a hobby showcasing how dogged obsession, perfectionist attitude and determination to fulfill your dream on your own terms can often result in extended cycles of frustration, depression and anguish. “Life gets in the way” is how Marika describes her situation and it perfectly defines that aspect of an artist’s life.
At many points, Marika talking to the camera almost becomes a cathartic release to speak her mind and possibly make sense on issues of carving out her own creative identity – independent from the one her parents had envisioned for her. It’s in scenes like these the film, just like Marika comes on its own’ taking a brief declaration of independence from its fairly rote approach towards its genre.
While the film suffers from some typical issues that face documentaries that try to capture the slice-of-life of its subjects, particularly how awkwardness reigns high in scenes involving other people who are less accustomed to having a camera capturing their conversations and it’s during such few scenes the film’s emotions come across as a bit false and orchestrated to the viewer.
The film also meanders for a good part of an hour but that is largely due to the creative struggle of Marika not coming to the fore until her late teens. But, when the film finds its footing, it is capable of providing a quality insight into the struggles of a young prodigy and the curse of expectations. A beautiful climatic scene completes Marika’s cycle within the film as her present day self ends up playing with another young prodigy – someone just her age when she had started – mirroring the introductory scene of the film.
A documentary that’s peppered with rich moments that showcase a young prodigy’s struggle with creativity and identity which should speak on a personal level to any creative person worldwide, irrespective of whether or not their talent was gifted and discovered as a child or as a result of life-long efforts.