Written by: Hannah Tran | March 10th, 2021
My Beautiful Stutter (Ryan Gielen, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
Instead of ending with a statistic, Ryan Gielen’s documentary, My Beautiful Stutter, begins with one. The simple facts displayed on the screen inform us that over 70 million people in the world are stutterers, and 1 out of every 20 children at some point deals with a stutter. What follows is a film just as heartbreaking as those numbers and, more importantly, just as eye-opening. Partly an insight into the lives of a handful of young teens living with a stutter and partly a look at a summer-camp program that seeks to help them, it is a comprehensive glance into a glaringly overlooked demographic.
Beyond providing an important overview of the medical causes behind stuttering and its subsequent effect on one’s daily life, My Beautiful Stutter provides an example of the level of kindness and patience the world should be willing to assume to better understand and accommodate this unique disorder. In fact, it doesn’t view it as a disorder at all. Through its diverse range of subjects and its incredibly moving and genuine connection to them, this documentary challenges the notion that a stutter is something one should seek to correct and instead proposes it as something those living with it can embrace as their own and one we should embrace, too.
And while the documentary itself was shot a few years ago, this message of normalizing it and fostering a universal empathy toward it feels just as relevant as ever. Although it may shy away from taking too strong a stance on its perception of stuttering and its role as a disorder, it has a number of emotionally strong movements that speak for themselves. But while it highlights extremely necessary subjects and subject matter, it can feel as if it occasionally gets lost in its uneven structure.
Split between the teens’ relationship to themselves, their everyday world, and the camp that they call home, it can often feel overly long or directionless and, perhaps worse, more like an advertisement for the Stuttering Association for the Young program rather than a documentary about it. This, however, in no way damages the vitality of its message and the sincerity of its heart. Beyond providing an example of humanity for the observer, My Beautiful Stutter accomplishes exactly what the program at its center does for its campers: provide a unique sense of comfort in its positive outlook.