Although the film does include a good bit of biographical information, it is not really a biography. Yes, it talks about the school he attended, reveals that he met the woman he loved as a soul mate a few days after he was married to another woman, and discusses his move to England when he was nineteen. But we are shown only highlights. We learn relatively little about his family. We hear nothing about the novels prior to Duddy Kravitz, and little about anything he wrote afterwards, except for Barney's Version, a film version of which just happens to be due out in the near future. The real focus of the documentary is on the Richler's penchant for controversy.
Director Francine Pelletier's approach to her unconvenional subject is fairly conventional. Like many documentaries there are the talking heads, old friends talking about the man, literary figures talking about his work. Richler's wife Florence talks about the difficulties of living with a man who put his work before everything else in his life. His friend Ted Kotcheff talks about being the first to read Duddy Kravitz and eventually securing the funding to make the film.
Margaret Atwood discusses the psychological crutches he depended on in social situations, and Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker gives some insight into his significance as a writer and what it means to be a "wild Jew." There is archival footage of the Yiddish community in Montreal at the time Richler was growing up. There are scenes from both the film of Duddy Kravitz and Barney's Version.
If Richler never quite achieved the reputation of some of the other "wild Jews" in the States, it may be less because of the quality of his major work, than it is because of his focus on Canadian issues in his later work. Even though much of his writing was published in American periodicals, more than likely, it makes a difference to parochial readers if your book deals with Jews in New Jersey or Chicago as opposed to Jews in Montreal. Still, it is clearly arguable that Mordecai Richler at his best is as good as they come, and this is a message that comes through loud and clear from this estimable documentary.