The film is titled Cracked Up, and comes from Hammond's personal friend Michelle Esrick, a documentary filmmaker who told Variety that there was something unique about Hammond's quest for mental health. After years of substance abuse, self-harm and misdiagnoses, he began to untangle the truth of his past trauma, and was disturbed by what he found.
“[Hammond] said something to me that really stood out,” Esrick recalled. “His doctor told him not to call what he had a mental illness, rather a mental injury. I felt this huge wave of compassion rush through my body and go out to everybody.”
The trailer seems to tease just a bit of that epiphany onscreen. It features Hammond describing years of misdiagnosed mental illness — including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, it lands on one central ailment that they were all trying to get at: his flashbacks.
Hammond suffered from "incapacitating flashbacks" to his young life, where he apparently suffered something life-altering. As the trailer shows, the trauma left a physical mark on his brain, which imaging revealed does not operate normally.
"They looked at my brain once," Hammond said. "The left side of my brain was dark. The right side of my brain was Times Square."
Hammond apparently knew that "some bad stuff had happened to him when he was a kid," but only recalled those memories "in flashes and bursts." The movie documents his attempts to get to the root of those memories and understand how and why they left such a mark on his life. At the same time, Esrick says that it addresses the stigma surrounding mental health.
“Like Darrell says, ‘If you got hit by a car you wouldn’t be ashamed or if you broke your leg you wouldn’t be ashamed.’ But somehow if you have things you can’t explain, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, addictions you feel ashamed," she said. "It’s Darrell’s story, but it’s a bigger story that we both wanted to tell.”0comments
Naturally, the documentary also takes a look at Hammond's storied career in comedy, including 14 seasons on Saturday Night Live. It features interviews with Lorne Michaels, Whoopi Goldberg and others. The trailer includes clips from Hammond's stand-up comedy, where he seems to examine his own memories through a sardonic lens, perhaps keeping them at a healthy arms' length.
A special world premiere of Cracked Up takes place on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at the New York City Film Festival.