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The Primary Instinct Review

January 17, 2016 | Posted by Michael Thomas
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The Primary Instinct Review  

The Primary Instinct is, on the surface, simply a recorded version of Stephen Tobolowsky doing a one-person show. It comes across similarly to the carefully crafted HBO specials that comedians do after a year or so of practicing the set in city after city (and for all I know, that was the exact process by which this film came to be). To reduce the film to simply that though does it, Tobolowsky, and David Chen (making his directorial debut) a disservice. The film is all about understanding why stories work and why we tell them. It accomplishes that rather bluntly by having Tobolowsky literally tell the (live and at-home) audience stories from his life.

The film masterly crafts the larger story it is telling by hiding behind all the smaller stories Tobolowsky tells (all of which seem to run the gamut of emotions) along the way. While Tobolowsky obviously knows the beginning, middle, and end of his act, he is still the main character of a journey, and you can see the emotional change he goes through in the story.

That story is brilliant for its simplicity. Stephen Tobolowsky, an actor who has appeared in over 200 film and television projects, is simply another human being on this planet who has experienced the ups and downs that any person has to experience in order to be alive. The simple act of telling stories from his life is the kind of transcendent experience that he believes human beings crave (and is the titular Primary Instinct). It may sound like a trite story to tell, but Tobolowsky is so good at recounting various salient moments from his life that you realize that the mere act of going on the journey with him is so rewarding that there is sincere importance to the whole film.

Towards the end of his act, Stephen Tobolowsky theorizes that, “The reason we tell these stories is because they’re holy.” I would perhaps quibble with that description, but there is no denying that the first-time director, Chen, captures these stories and delivers them to us in a way that certainly feels rewarding on a spiritual level.

Buy the film here or watch it on Hulu Plus.


Other articles by Michael Thomas:

* Review of the 1966 version of The Hobbit
* 8 Questions After Watching Season 5 of Game of Thrones
* Ranking the Lightsaber Duels in the Star Wars Films
* Top Ten Films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
* 7 Questions After Watching Season 1 of Daredevil

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The Primary Instinct is one of the best films of 2015 for its pure ability to get the viewer invested in a story that is all about getting to the root of why we tell stories. Seek this film out.