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Why Paramount’s “I Am Paul Walker” Isn’t About Paul Walker

Mild spoilers

This past August, Paramount Network debuted the documentary I Am Paul Walkerthe intimate portrait of the life of the late actor, Paul Walker, and since it was announced that its available for streaming, there was the need to revisit the heartfelt tribute to a man that only those who loved him truly knew.

The second viewing left me with the same impression I had months ago.

I am Paul Walker isn’t about Paul Walker, at least not the movie star that we all fell for, thanks to the vivid blue eyes highlighting a face that only a million of us could love.

The film is an affecting homage to the all-American boy who grew up in Southern California in a modest household that we later discover was supported by the irresistible charisma of a burgeoning child actor, who paid his dues with appearances on almost every popular sitcom and children’s game show of the eighties.

Through the loving guidance of family members, childhood friends, and industry confidantes, we get to really bond with the cool as shit dude who didn’t seek the life that ultimately enveloped him. His siblings swear that he kept threatening to walk away from his successful career and live a simpler, more fulfilling existence, studying the ocean. His long-time manager divulges hilarious episodes that illustrate how unimpressed Walker was with ambitious roles that guaranteed stardom, and instead yearned for scripts that focused more on character development rather than his uncanny good looks.

His mother provides the backstory of how her eldest son developed the intense love for cars, which ultimately made him a bona fide gear head. We also learn about the unplanned pregnancy that resulted in the birth of his daughter. The timing wasn’t ideal, and it forced the twenty-five-year-old debt-riddled surfer to step up and seriously consider his future as an actor.

We get the deets on the genesis of his star-making role in the cult classic that featured him as the “good cop gone bad,” Brian O’Connor in The Fast and the Furious. The only member of the cast invited to share fond memories of brotherly love, Tyrese Gibson, highlights the fun times filming 2 Fast and 2 Furious in Miami, after he was asked to co-star opposite the “ideal, handsome White man” who would become his friend for life.

The poignant moments capture the real Paul Walker, which is incidentally his still-active Twitter handle, as we’re treated to awesome footage of him in his element; riding the waves of the ocean he loved so much, and gleefully helping to wrangle in mammoth sharks with the experts who need to tag them for long-term research.

We’re given access to home movies that depict the “vagrant” in his early years exhibiting his boisterousness while hanging out with the crew that stayed close even after the fame and fortune arrived. There’s also the sweetness of interactions with his younger siblings and the family vacations that captured his never-ending zest for life.

Walker’s best qualities seemed to be his unwillingness to sell his soul to an industry that he was extra cautious navigating — earlier in his career. As his manager and dear friend puts it, “he always had one foot in, and one foot out.” and this undoubtedly made the process of “managing” his often elusive client, anything but dull.

As the film winds down, the sobering mood settles as we learn how his loved ones found out about the car crash that tragically cut short the life of a man who was just coming into his own both personally and professionally. His untimely death during thanksgiving weekend 2013, at the age of forty, while on break from shooting the seventh installment of the globally-revered franchise that changed his life — was a huge blow and the pain visibly hovers around his bereaved testifiers.

I Am Paul Walker is really the collage of love letters that creates the imagery of someone who was just as perfect on the inside as he was on the outside.

From Walker’s philanthropic efforts that birthed the non-profit organization that’s committed to helping with relief efforts as first-responders, both at home and abroad — to his unyielding loyalty to the people and things that he loved — the insightful documentary by director Adrian Buitenhuis, is a case study of how an unconventional movie star determinedly lived life to the fullest.

Of course nobody is perfect, and while we get glimpses of minor character flaws, it’s quite clear that this carefully crafted offering is meant to give its participants the opportunity to proudly express the profound affection they will always harbor — leaving no room for any of the blemishes that we as humans accumulate over time.

We also feel the pained frustration of youngest brother Cody, who laments how unfair it is that Walker never really got to enjoy the fruits of his labor, as the actor who was beginning to truly enjoy his craft, and a father who was blissfully relishing the close relationship with his teenage daughter.

The finality of death and how it torments those who are left behind is the unavoidable takeaway of I Am Paul Walker, as well as the realization of how super important it is to be that person that is missed terribly when you make that final exit.

The real Paul Walker wasn’t the gorgeous movie star who was Fast and Furious on the big screen. He was just a regular guy who appreciated the fundamentals of life, and offered himself to the causes that mattered, while also making time for the ones who needed him the most.

It sounds pretty darn perfect, but maybe that’s because of what we’ve become and how it’s been traitorously normalized.

But if we need a refresher course — this light-hearted and insightful film is a good place to start.

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