Movie Review: ‘THE PRIMARY INSTINCT’ – A Labor of Love From An Expert Storyteller


James Clay // Film Critic

Director: David Chen
Cast: Stephen Tobolowsky

What makes a one person on-stage for an hour so compelling? Well, it depends on the performer’s skill set– is it telling jokes, it is their interpretive art, or just telling a good story? Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky is all of these elements rolled into one raconteur who embodies the spirit of youth with enough wisdom for several lifetimes. If you aren’t familiar with one of Hollywood’s busiest actors by name, give him a Google and all that will be cured.

David Chen’s documentary THE PRIMARY INSTINCT chronicles these anecdotes that cover Tobolowskys life with wit, charm and the uncanny ability to relate to the audience. Chen and Tobolowsky had a working relationship for years from the popular podcast THE TOBOLOWSKY FILES (which is available on iTunes and numerous other platforms). And that report is easily shown to those who are familiar with the project.

Tobolowsky on-stage at the Moore Theater in Seattle (Photo Courtesy of FilmBuff)

Tobolowsky on-stage at the Moore Theater in Seattle (Photo Courtesy of FilmBuff)

THE PRIMARY INSTINCT is a curious yet eye-catching title that’s uncovered while Tobolowsky reminisces about phrases that his mother passed down to him as a young man growing up in Dallas. Tobolowsky’s stories are all about the viewer’s interpretation. That is one of the greatest credits to Tobolowsky’s skill set as a performer. It doesn’t matter how personal the stories may be, there is a level of sensitivity that is encapsulated as the show travels from his times as young boy getting autographs from a mystery professional football team, to his mother’s bout with Alzheimers. And all the while Tobolowsky never loses his lust for life.

Aside from his performance – which is the meat of the film’s run time – Chen interviews the man himself at the bookends of the film, providing perspective on the differences between leading men and character actors. Each have their places, but the latter has the luxury of going to Target.

THE PRIMARY INSTINCT showcases Chen’s ability to not only connect to the human experience through his interview techniques, but allow the viewers to sit back and run the gamut of emotions from love, to laughter and onto tears.

THE PRIMARY INSTINCT is available on iTunes and other streaming platforms.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.