Actor Anton Yelchin was a talent admired and absorbed by those who had the pleasure to work with him over his brief but copious career in film and television. Director Garret Price delivers an impassioned debut with “Love, Antosha,” a heartfelt love letter to the Leningrad-born wunderkind.
Yelchin grew up in a Jewish household run by his parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, a pair of professional figure skaters. As antisemitism began to rise in the Soviet Union, his family decided to migrate to the United States when he was just a six-month-old baby. The Yelchin family settled in the San Fernando Valley, an urbanized locale in Los Angeles County, California. Here, Anton quickly fell in love with the art of cinema and developed a desire to act.
Through his journal entries and other writings, and interviews with family, childhood friends, and colleagues, audiences learn that Anton was often shy, but considerably animated as a child. Infinitely precocious and vociferous, the Yelchins decided to hire an acting coach to help alleviate some of the wild energy that percolated in young Anton. As his dramatic talents became more and more apparent, so too did concerns with his health.
When his parents recognized their son struggling to recover from a common cold, they took him to a specialist who diagnosed the young talent with a chronic illness – cystic fibrosis (CF), something his family would hide from the young thespian for several years. This decision allowed Anton to focus on developing his craft. As he grew stronger and stronger, young Yelchin’s parents could see that acting was working to heal him of the ailments of his condition.
Through stock footage, Price’s nimble exposition allows audiences the chance to watch Anton’s career evolve. From his first low, low-budget film, “A Man is Mostly Water” (where Yelchin learned to play guitar for the role) to his breakthrough success in “Hearts in Atlantis,” we watch as the young actor became a star. His savvy know-how and frothy charisma began turning the heads of Academy Award winners and nominees, including co-stars Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Frank Langella, and Albert Finney. His steady poise and effervescent confidence was a reflection of the time Anton spent studying old film noir and French New Wave cinema, and a testament to the diligent and particular mind that actor Ben Foster said filled the young actor with a “childlike surprise and appetite for experience.” It is the sum of all parts that made Yelchin the talent audiences remember him for.
Price skillfully and delicately paints an objective portrait of a young man who was adored by everyone who crossed his path. He does not hide the darker side of the late actor from viewers – a side that is often an ingredient in those with a brilliance like Yelchin’s. He only scratches the surface here, though, with glimpses into Yelchin’s inquisitive nature with sex and drugs like the young man battling with the incurable, life-threatening disease. For as much as we can admire the film, these dark corners are what humanized the extraordinary actor, and I would have loved to explore further down these corridors. But that is not the story Price seeks to tell. “Love, Antosha” is indeed a love letter to the perseverance, aptitude, and magnetism of the multifaceted actor.
The film is a measure of the heart of the young man and is wonderfully told through the memories of those who loved him most. A highlight of the film is Price capturing the relationship Yelchin and his benevolent mother, Irina. His affection for her extended to the respect and love he had for the other women in his life. You can see how important this was for Price to depict, as he frames the film around the pair. It is her recollections that struck me the hardest.
Price handles Yelchin’s lamentable end adroitly in an interview with his “Star Trek” co-star Chris Pine. Pine achingly connects the dots between Yelchin’s lifelong battle with CF and the fact that his final moments. The actor’s sharp, stinging words lingered eerily well beyond the film’s end credits.
“Love, Antosha” is a sentimental and profound ode to a vulnerable and voracious acting prodigy – wise beyond his years – who was tragically taken from this world far too soon. Beloved by those around him, adored by fans and family alike, Anton Yelchin leaves a legacy in the memories of those he encountered in his brief but inspiring time in this world, and in the 69 films and television projects he diligently dedicated his life to.