Enlighten Up! skims the surface of every encounter, not to mention yoga in general. And the by-the-numbers documentary has its moments, but not enough of them. Beginning with talking head testimonials from internationally known yoga instructors who explain that there are exceptions and contradictions to all rules, it briefly cuts back and forth with mixed messages and innuendoes instead of information. It's easy to tell from the first five minutes that Nick isn't going to get it. Even as every single spiritual guru tells him that "the brain is not the boss," "don't dwell on thoughts," "keep practicing yoga and let it happen," Nick constantly resists and stonewalls.
While the focus is on Nick the skeptic, the narration amateurishly switches between Nick and Kate, with both figures having dramatic moments. Thanks to Kate's off-camera remarks and input, it's obvious she is being affected by the events in the film. But behind the scenes, she proves to be more distracting than beneficial.
The story of Nick's journey becomes secondary to the travelogue interviews with the old masters in India and the yoga instructors, swamis and gurus. From B.K.S. Iyengar to Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, there are real pearls of wisdom for the stubborn, disbelieving journalist. One guru named Norman simply tells him, "Go F*** yourself." Hearing directly from these teachers and seeing footage of the lineage of popular U.S. yoga practices is pretty remarkable. Yogis in Bend will recognize two of their own in the interviews - David and Andrea Miliotis of Ashtanga Yoga Bend have a brief yet poignant appearance.
Despite the complexity of the subject matter, or perhaps because of it, there is quite a bit of humor injected into the film. The best is the pro wrestler in L.A. who changes the greeting "Namaste" to "T&A," incorporating hot chicks into his backyard lawn practice.
As a documentary subject, Nick's insistence on a worldview versus peace of mind is just not that interesting. His skepticism wears thin. He harps on the same viewpoints continuously, making it frustrating to watch. Too many scenes seemed like outtakes, while some interviews between Nick and Kate came across staged and contrived. Nick suffers from the quick-fix philosophy and both he and the filmmaker suffer from the obvious infatuation with each other. Despite seeking some kind of spiritual transformation on-camera, both Nick and Kate refuse to let us in on their real feelings, about themselves and each other. (You have to wonder why Kate chose Nick as a subject in the first place.) Their facade makes the emotion they do convey appear phony.
In the end, Nick seems to have become a little more aware of himself and maybe a better person, but he isn't sure if he really cares and consequently neither does the audience.
Enlighten Up! ★★✩✩✩
Directed by Kate Churchill