Combustible Celluloid
With: Brie Larson (narrator), Paul Stamets, Michael Pollan, Eugenia Bone
Written by: Mark Monroe
Directed by: Louie Schwartzberg
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 81
Date: 03/27/2020

Fantastic Fungi (2020)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Mushroom Wowed

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the most positive and hopeful documentaries in years, this lean, beautiful, entertaining mushroom movie suggests that the answers to many of our problems could grow naturally and abundantly.

In Fantastic Fungi, various experts on mushrooms explain their surprising importance to virtually everything on the earth. They help the balance of nature, not only by helping clear away dead matter, but also helping in the creation of new things, and creating a connective tissue between all living things.

Mycologists marvel at the variety of mushrooms, about the ones that are good to eat, and the ones that can be poisonous. Mainly, the movie suggests that "magic mushrooms" may have had something to do with the evolutions of humans, and that their inherent properties may hold the answer to many of today's problems, from cleaning oil spills to curing diseases and helping with anxiety and depression.

Louie Schwartzberg's Fantastic Fungi is determined to be more than just a talking head movie, so it employs some truly astonishing time-lapse cinematography, showing mushrooms blooming. Some of them are beautiful — some grow a net-like covering below their dome-caps — and some are terrifying (one looks like it has spiky red claws). It also has Brie Larson narrating, not as the voice of some clinical expert, but as the voice of the mushrooms themselves!

It also finds a great subject in mycologist Paul Stamets, who tells many great stories while wandering around in the woods, including one about how mushrooms cured his stuttering! The movie is immediately and consistently interesting, but it eventually moves into profound, cosmic proportions with the notion that mushrooms are a connective force to everything in nature, and that humans probably ought to be more of a part of that connection.

The movie does talk in depth about "magic mushrooms," arguing that they are wrongly perceived as a "party drug," and are really far more useful than their reputation would suggest. But Fantastic Fungi also does not demand that all viewers must take them. Rather, it merely provides some information, the results of a few positive studies, and lets viewers make up their own minds.

See the film's official site for details on how to rent/stream.

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