Posted: 04/09/2010


The Definition of Insanity

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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The Definition of Insanity is a good case study of an actor’s ambitious trek to become famous at any cost and the trail of destruction he leaves behind for those who love him. Robert Margolis plays as himself along with his wife, Sally, played by Kelli Barnett, with young son, Dylan, as Margolis tries again and again to keep a toehold in the New York acting business as he gets older and finds fewer breaks.

Margolis embarks upon lead after lead as he tries to get better acting jobs with which to take care of his family. He’s nearly tapped out of borrowing from his parents, and his wife, who doesn’t work, is growing tired of the excuses and even more concerned about the uncertainty of Margolis’s next paycheck.

Margolis has an older friend who acts as his acting coach and helps him prep for upcoming auditions. Margolis also works with other actors, as his shares his expertise with them. He’s always clinging on to the hope that this next acting gig will be the one to open up the doors to everything. This documentary shows all that Margolis goes through, the highs and the lows of a struggling actor. Margolis has a good friend who just happens to luck up and meet a producer’s daughter, and he grows jealous of this young man, as he finds success on a soap opera, after the daughter introduces him to her successful father.

After a few months of going with no acting gigs at all and not making much money selling gourmet dog food, Margolis agrees to work as an undercover detective. He does this for a couple of weeks, even presenting himself at the interview as someone dressed like Humphrey Bogart, which is overstated as far as his boss is concerned. It’s an “undercover” assignment he tells him, and he needs to gather his intelligence on mostly divorcing couples in a more normal manner. This only works for a while, once Margolis gets a tip about a new movie being directed by legendary director Peter Bogdanovich. Will this be the big break? But Margolis manages to screw this assignment up, when he’s cast as a witness in a movie called The Killing of the Barfly. Right after his first day of work, Margolis comes home to find his wife and kid gone. He’s so upset the next day that he becomes agitated and has a spat with Bogdanovich, which causes him to be fired from the set.

Albert Einstein reportedly once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In the Definition of Insanity, which follows Margolis from one failed audition to the next; failed meetings with casting directors and his only success at being a good father—as best he can—to his son, Dylan, Einstein words become more and more true.

The Definition of Insanity is written and directed by Robert Margolis and Frank Matter and has won a number of awards, including the Audience Award and Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2005 Virginia Film Festival; Best Feature Film at the 2005 Newport Beach International Film Festival; and Best Directors at the 2005 Chicago Independent Film Festival.

The film was shot throughout New York City during the course of 18 months and is meshed together with real documentary footage of other real actors who are also facing their triumphs and defeats one day at a time. In the end, the movie poses a few questions: just how much is enough, when is it time to throw in the towel or for those actors who trek on and on in hopes of that last big break—in the words of Langston Hughes—what happens to a dream deferred?

The Definition of Insanity is available on through purchase or Video on Demand. Also visit

By clicking on one of the following links, you may also watch the film instantly via Amazon On Demand, or buy the DVD from Amazon direct.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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