REVIEW: Fantastic Fungi

What a trip.

I liked this documentary film. Maybe not loved, but definitely liked. Mostly, I thought it looked pretty stunning. Shot after shot of colorful, dewey, exotic mushrooms made me feel like I was rolling around on forest floor. But that was really only the first half.

That part taught me a lot about how important fungi are for ecosystems. Smooth music and misty slo-mo was essential. I was lulled into understanding that fungi are the only decomposers that can break down the cellulose in plant cell walls, which I think is actually pretty incredible. My favorite part was when they described how fungi actually help plants communicate to each other: if there’s some kind of threat, like a disease, the fungi can alert the roots of a plant to grow in a direction away from the threat. And look how coolly they animated it!

Ok, onto the part I didn’t think was as successful: the second half of the movie was about fungus having helpful qualities as a drug. My problem isn’t with the idea; it’s with how imbalanced the exploration was into the medical benefits of it. The movie felt a little preachy about how promising that field was. Too heavy-handed. I kept waiting fort the producers to present a more cautious attitude toward using it for relief: there was none. Just, “here are a couple experimental studies of people taking a dose and describing how it helped with depression.” Not enough to convince me of a lot.

On top of that, the movie mostly followed (in the noneducational part) one man’s experience with fungi. But, the movie wasn’t a documentary just about this man; the movie’s called Fantastic Fungi. So this guy’s enchantment with fungi just doesn’t quite seem well-vetted enough to convince me of much more than his enthusiasm for it. Didn’t teach me much about fungi generally.

I’d say, watch this movie if you’re curious about fungi and don’t know much about it yet. Don’t expect to uproot your life and start a mushroom-growing business because of it.

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