"I'm looked at as an imbecile," comedian Adam Carolla said when asked about the biggest challenge he faced with his new film.
"I consider myself pretty capable, but I know the industry doesn't look at me that way," he continued. "I know they think, 'Here comes the clod who did The Man Show or the guy who makes the fart jokes with the beer. Now he wants to do a documentary?'"
The documentary follows another man who fought for respect in a world outside his comfort zone — actor Paul Newman behind the wheel of a racecar.
Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman premiered Friday at the Indiana State Museum IMAX. The crowd was peppered with members of Newman's racing team. Excitement for the Indy 500 hovered in the air amid Carolla's conversation with the racing crew in the theater lobby.
Although Carolla sheepishly shrugs off any similarities between him and Newman, they are easy to see as the film unfolds. Both men are attracted to variety and reinventing themselves. Carolla doesn't like to settle down or be pigeonholed. "I'm interested in whatever I can do next," he said.
Much like Carolla detoured into documentaries at middle age, Newman veered into racing when he was 47. He went on to win four national championships as a driver and eight as an owner.
Winning is an enlightening look at an established talent changing course. It's an embarrassment of riches in terms of the people interviewed in the doc — people Carolla didn't think he had the "street cred" to attract, such as Robert Redford, Robert Wagner, Patrick "McDreamy" Dempsey, Jay Leno and John Lasseter, all of whom shed candid light on Newman's passion for racing.
The film's most interesting insight is the suggestion that Newman worked as an actor to find out who he really wanted to be, stepping into other people's shoes to see which fit best. His uncertainty about himself came through even in his cocky characters. Whether he was playing pool shark Fast Eddie Felson or gunslinger Butch Cassidy, Newman always revealed a vulnerable side, showing bruises beneath bravado. He created the sense that his characters traveled long, hard roads to become remarkable.
"If you want to do something right, you have to go out there and do it wrong," Newman says over footage of him crashing cars. As he becomes better at racing, Winning shows him using the sport as the same sort of escape we take at the movies. The film's most poignant montage finds Newman practicing at the racetrack more frequently after the death of his son. "When you get out to that track and sit down in that car, whatever's roiling around in your head goes right out the window," he says.
A portrait of passion and a vision of work as play, Winning is an exhilarating free fall through Newman's life in the fast lane. Unfortunately, it's no longer playing on the big screen around here, but it is now available through video on demand.
"I hope people sit down and watch it with their kids and go, 'Look, this is how life is supposed to work, but you have to work at it,'" Carolla said.
When I prodded him one last time about whether he related to Newman and the path he took, Carolla said, "I just thought of him as a guy who did what he wanted to do to the best of his ability. I hope we can all relate to that."