The series’ selectively limited scope is most felt in “act iii: AWAKENING,” which condenses the rest of Kanye’s career after College Dropout more or less into 95 minutes. Coodie films West in the later end of 2010s, and he has a front-row spot again to albums like 2019’s Jesus is King, or the Madison Square Garden listening party for 2016’s The Life of Pablo, while also capturing West in creative isolation not long after his tearful press conference for his 2020 presidential campaign. To do this, the doc skips over entire creative movements and albums like Yeezus in a tornado of grainy, fast-cutting clips about his life in the media. No large point is made except to remind us of how long we have known West in the public eye, of his relationship with Donald Trump, of the many different ways his mental health can be connected to becoming such a polarizing world-renown artist who craves the eyes on him. And its introspection concerning such an outspoken wordsmith’s career only comes from Coodie’s sleepy voiceover with rough-draft anecdotes like this: “But I guess things change when you get famous.”
“Jeen-Yuhs” is revelatory in depicting how anti-insightful a documentary can still be without narrative tact, even if its story takes place over nearly two decades. Its hollow approach underestimates one of the through-lines right there in the edit: the friendship that exists between Coodie and West. In the beginning Coodie gives a young West the first glow of spotlight, the power of being filmed. Many awards and countless songs later, in one incredible moment depicting how friendships change, a drunk, Grammy-anointed West keeps confusing Coodie for his collaborator Chike while Coodie interviews him on camera. But the story has little to say about this special friendship, rather proving that Coodie shows up whenever he is called upon; that West’s greatest sin is whenever he doesn’t invite Coodie along. For all that Coodie’s intimate camera gets to film, West remains opaque, especially in what Coodie even means to him.
It’s not often that you can specifically knock a documentary because it wasn’t made by somebody else, but then again “Jeen-Yuhs” is singular in what makes it such a disappointment. “Jeen-Yuhs” recklessly breaks unwritten rules about doc filmmaking, about how to best frame someone else’s story, and for no larger purpose than to serve its creators. The irrelevant parts within “Jeen-Yuhs” are made only more obvious by Kanye West’s actual, monumental relevancy, and the missed opportunity for Coodie’s hard-fought footage to amaze viewers by speaking for itself.
Part one is now playing on Netflix, with a new act arriving each week.