Michelle Smith is 20 years old. She likes cats and old episodes of the MTV show Daria. She’s got a kinky boyfriend whom her mom and stepdad aren’t crazy about. But they all get along pretty well. Michelle dreams of leaving Bangor, Maine, for sunny Los Angeles and working as a voice actress. She’s legally blind and has Asperger’s syndrome. Her little brother died when he was 5.
Best and Most Beautiful Things is a documentary of two years in Michelle’s life as she graduates from school and contemplates living on her own for the first time, and it puts these details on equal footing to paint a complete and compassionate portrait of the kind of person society too often ignores. It takes only a few minutes with Michelle to grasp her depth. She’s eloquent and thoughtful, with a quirky sense of humor. She’s unashamed of her passions — be it collecting anthropomorphized cat dolls or experimenting with sadomasochism. But all of this is eclipsed by her disabilities in the eyes of those around her. Director Garrett Zevgetis, however, keeps his camera tight on Michelle — sometimes too literally. The camera’s shallow focus attempts to re-create her impaired vision but ends up being more a gimmick than a tool for empathy. Even so, the film’s overall effect lets the person — not the condition — be the real story, one that’s worth sharing. B