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Mothers, don’t spoil your babies. Give them chores, responsibilities, and hard work, or else they might grow up to be like Matthew VanDyke.

Not that Matthew VanDyke is a bad person — far from it — but what mother would want her son seeking danger, excitement, and “manhood” on a motorcycle in the Middle East?

For the rest of us, though, he makes for an interesting subject.

Two Things

Motorcycles, dangerous lands, and a camera
Motorcycles, dangerous lands, and a camera

Documentarian Marshall Curry introduces us to VanDyke through a conversation they had in a studio. The conversation seems quite linear; VanDyke’s tells the story of his adventures. The narration is then illustrated with the myriad hours of footage VanDyke shot along the way.

VanDyke decided to buy a camera and a motorcycle because his life didn’t have enough adventure. He set out on a self-proclaimed “crash course in manhood.” He bought two key pieces of equipment: a motorcycle and a camera. (What? No gun? That comes later.)

His girlfriend Lauren was supportive, and the two kept in constant contact.

An American Abroad

He decided to tour Africa and the Middle East. His obsessive-compulsive disorder occasionally got in the way. Foreign toilets seemed to be of particular concern, but more annoying was the fear that some little bump in the road might have been someone he’d run over. He’d frequently have to backtrack to be sure that the bump was just a bump.

Eventually he got bolder. He passed as a local in Afghanistan. He snuck into Hussein’s Jalalabad compound and planted an American flag. He hung out with soldiers. He got bitten and chased by wild dogs.

Matt ended up in Libya and finally made friends and found a sense of belonging with a friend named Nouri.

And then he went home.

But soon thereafter, the Arab Spring blossomed. One of the biggest coups was happening in Libya. Matt’s best friends were in Libya. He couldn’t sit by and do nothing. He decided to go back and help Nouri fight against Gadafi.

Matt’s story continues, but I’ll leave our summary right there.

To What End?

Matthew’s narration is quietly matter-of-fact. By the time he tells Curry his story, he has obviously gained some distance and perspective. That makes the larger-than-life footage of his younger self all the more surprising and occasionally shocking. Point and Shoot will hold your interest through every turn.

The movie does build momentum. VanDyke’s footage gets better the longer he has the camera. His fear and timidity give way to boldness and even recklessness. His story gets more serious the longer he stays in the Middle East. The most powerful scenes are at the end of Matt’s story.

In spite of that, I wish Curry had done a little better with the editing. I kept waiting for some sort of a twist, or revelation, or something that would sum up all the adventures into something bigger. Instead, the last scene feels like a shrug.

Rather than taking the “manhood” quest at face value, I think with just a little more editing, Curry might have been able to go a step further and expose why some people think manhood has to be photographed in order to be real.

After all, one of the two things Matthew had to buy was a camera. Action movies inspired a young Curry, and he frequently points out that the soldiers he photographed were posing for his camera.

In any case, Point and Shoot is an intriguing documentary about an interesting and surprising American.