In Enlighten Up!, filmmaker and yoga practitioner Kate Churchill makes it her goal "to prove that yoga can transform anyone." Her method: Recruit a willing guinea pig—Nick Rosen, an itinerant journalist—and follow him through a full-scale yogic immersion, from "hot yoga" classes in New York City to a weekend of "yoga for dudes" in Los Angeles to extended adventures in yoga-soaked India. From this proven crowd-pleaser of a concept—Yogafy Me!, essentially—Churchill somehow manages to wring one of the more exasperating films I've ever been required to sit through.
The film's problems announce themselves early, as Churchill establishes her film's basic components—the who/what/why of Enlighten Up!—with an adamant lack of grace. Information is provided through chunks of on-screen text, which don't just appear but are typed out, letter by letter, in slower than real time. A similar temporal klutziness runs through the film's interviews, which often involve not just questions being asked and answered but conceived: Nick says, "You should ask me about _____." "Oh yeah," responds Kate from behind the camera. "Tell me about _____." "Well," says Nick, "when I was doing _____..." The presence of such Editing 101 missteps is pervasive enough that I began to wonder if they were the point. "Maybe it's a statement on the importance of 'the process,'" I allowed, with dread.
The majority of the film follows Nick and Kate as they visit various yoga notables around the globe (Kate may not understand much about filmmaking, but she's aces at funding and access). Everywhere, Nick or Kate or both Nick and Kate ask variations of the question "what is true yoga?" with various wise yogis giving variations of the same answer: It is a spiritual and physical practice, and it is not Out There but right where you are. Like deaf wanderers with a camera crew, Nick and Kate hear nothing of the wisdom they've so strenuously solicited, opting instead to keep wandering and questioning and babbling until, apparently, the budget was spent. As a documentary about the power of yoga, Enlighten Up! is a failure. But as a documentary about the eternally slippery simplicity of yoga (and the making of a bad documentary), it's almost worthwhile.