The story of the new documentary Mind Over Matter is indeed one of inspiration and perseverance: A young man battles physical limitations and societal stigmas to achieve his dreams in L.A. Absolutely, the specificity of his condition – Cerebral Palsy – as it relates to his career – Musician – is quite striking by mere contrast alone. When you combine all of that with personal struggles like pain/drug abuse and family issues, you have the makings of a true blue story for the ages. Unfortunately, this is also a movie that wears its epic-ness like a bright neon headband, advertising this as its thesis before ever reaching that point.
The film is a nearly 90-minute interview with Brandon Mendenhall, the founder of metal band The Mendenhall Experiment. Here, he goes over his life, from childhood to young adulthood, from dreamer to music maker, from struggling to rocking. He goes over his disability with a matter of fact-ness, frankness, and patience that I found very refreshing. His is very much a tale that makes one want to get up and get to work, considering how he worked his body through paralysis in order to play guitar, went to and finished college, and finally traveled to and is currently trying to conquer the Los Angeles music scene. Brandon’s passion and honesty are as on display as is his heart, which is Mind Over Matter’s saving grace. For every moment we’re with Brandon (and there are more than enough), we’re enthralled.
A holier than though complex does come about in the muddled (and less than finesse) editing, turning the film’s attitude from influential to almost inspiration porn. I found myself checking the running time more than once, waiting to hit the conclusion instead of being genuinely moved and wanting more. It can be a slog to watch, but worse, Mind Over Matter can be overblown and openly manipulative, forcing us to feel. It’s hard to pinpoint exact moments, but the overall tone I got was that of a promo video asking for my membership. Basically, I was being sold something. Whether that something was Brandon’s band, being a Korn fan, or to seek out more of the filmmaker’s work, I’m uncertain and I think that the movie is too. It’s almost like that Red Skelton skit where he plays a door to door hair brush salesman who arrives at the steps of a giant bald man, leaving him frightened and struggling to come up with a pitch. Mind Over Matter is almost that.
Despite its own editorial challenges, the movie does one big thing right, and that’s letting Brandon tell his story in his words. He’s a guy who, while struggling with walking, will walk for miles in the hopes of a recording opportunity. He’s been down the cocaine path, fallen into depression, and come out the other end stronger than before. When Brandon is telling things his way, Mind Over Matter certainly lives up to its subject, breathes a bit, and becomes more about someone just trying to live what they’ve imagined for themselves. His disability is certainly part of it all, and this is understood, but literally and figuratively, the movie showcases his personality and talent and work ethic above all else – at least, when he’s on camera. Mind Over Matter could’ve been great instead of just ok had it kept things shorter and simpler. In other words, had it not overthought itself…
In probably the most touching scene, The Mendenhall Experiment plays a personal porch show for a superfan of theirs, who has a more severe form of CP. It’s clear how this young woman loves to hear them, and how her family feels this helps her and affects her for the better. Brandon says more than once that music has the power to change lives in the positive. So do movies. Maybe next time, though.
RATING: 2.5 / 5
Mind Over Matter is currently available through various video on demand platforms.