The documentary “Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time” takes the importance of the novelist as a given, although years after his death in 2007, his ostensible significance still sets off conflicts on social media. By the same token, when Robert B. Weide, who directed this movie with Don Argott, describes the themes of a Vonnegut novel he read as a teen, he concludes by saying “What high school kid isn’t going to gobble this up?” A viewer with more grown-up standards, however, might make a squinchy face at that.
Vonnegut’s breakthrough novel was one that was hugely difficult to write. “Unstuck in Time” chronicles “Slaughterhouse-Five” and other works by the author. “Slaughterhouse-Five” (1969), with its harrowing description of the Allied firebombing that obliterated Dresden in World War II, became a counterculture classic. Vonnegut was there, as a P.O.W. The book took him a long time to complete, in part because of his reluctance to revisit past trauma.
The novel’s conceits — including the assertion that its hero, Billy Pilgrim, is “unstuck in time,” bouncing around his own life like a pinball — were conveyed in a deceptively relaxed, accessible style. (The book was made into a well-received movie released in 1972.)
Much of the documentary is devoted to Weide’s decades-long work on the project and to the friendship he developed with Vonnegut. It’s a double portrait that undermines the movie’s title somewhat.
“I didn’t even want to be in this film in the first place,” Weide, who’s helmed documentaries and several seasons of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” tells the camera, sounding slightly disingenuous. Not being in a movie can be the easiest thing in the world, if you put your mind to it.
In any event, the movie’s structure is determined — and sometimes skewed — by its insistence on telling the tale of a writer and his cinematic Boswell. If you can roll with that, “Unstuck in Time” does have its revelations and rewards.