(director/writer: Errol Morris; screenwriter: based on the book: Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story by Johanna Harcourt-Smith; cinematographer: Igor Martinović; editor: Steve Hathaway; music: Paul Leonard-Morgan.; cast: Errol Morris, Timothy Leary, Johanna Harcourt-Smith; Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: TV-14; producers: Errol Morris, Robert Fernandez, Steve Hathaway; Showtime;  2020)

The main characters were so limited.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The prolific documentarian Errol Morris’s (“The Thin Blue Line”/”Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.”) adaptation of the 2013 memoir Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary by Johanna Harcourt-Smith is an engaging one but not a good one. Johanna Harcourt-Smith, the celebrity socialite and vacuous radical, was briefly linked to the LSD guru Timothy Leary from 1974 to 1977. The middle-aged former Harvard psychology professor was the lover of the much younger woman while on the run from Nixon’s war on drug agent goons.

The promiscuous party-girl Harcourt-Smith’s affair with the outcast LSD guru Timothy Leary began in 1974, when Leary was on the lam and hiding in a ritzy Swiss hotel. Their relationship ended in 1977 over an argument. They were
living together in an FBI Witness Protection program in Santa Fe, after nabbed in Kabul. The slimy dude to save his ass had turned “snitch” and informed on his former disciples.

Their relationship forms the basis of this historic narrative, but fails to make any history
because the main characters were so limited.

“My Psychedelic Love Story” is a sequel to the 2017 Errol Morris-directed TV mini-series, “Wormwood.”

In the narrative, Morris brings up things about HS’s time spent with Leary and questions her experiences globe-trotting around the world with the guru and the many strange and famous characters she met while with him, including the shady Hungarian banker Arpad Plesch, the celebrity Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and someone called Donald Strange.

Now in her 70s (she
passed away in October, just after the movie release) HS sits in her living room on a sofa and freely tells tales of her bohemian life of free love, her childhood sexual abuse in Switzerland at age 5 with her tutor and, all the while, comparing herself to Greta Garbo playing Mata Hari in the 1931 spy film. She tells us in all seriousness, which she passes off as the wisdom she learned as a bohemian, that “You can never tell how rich people are.” There are clips of the womanizer fraud LSD guru saying even more ridiculous things.

The crux of the film has HS questioned by Morris, who asks if she was a “C.I.A. sex provocateur, ” as accused of being by the poet Allen Ginsburg. The hippie poet claimed she entrapped Leary to be taken into custody by CIA agents and had him returned to prison after his escape. Her catty reply was: “Was I?”  Which suggests she was. But Morris was not after the truth, he just felt comfortable letting her blather on and never pressed her for answers. Morris accepts her as a liar and merely views her as an amusing publicity hound and a parasite who made her name off the other eccentrics she surrounded herself with.

We get the picture of
both characters as immoral dirt-bags, who were unscrupulous operators you don’t want to be around (with the lady liar being more dangerous than the snaky man). They were people who really have nothing to say of value and whom you can’t trust.

(L-R): Timothy Leary and Joanna Harcourt-Smith

REVIEWED ON 12/5/2020  GRADE: B-