"Tony Robbins. Is he legit?"
Now it's easier for people to decide this question for themselves.
A new documentary, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, released earlier this year, recently hit Netflix, streaming the Tony Robbins six-day Date With Destiny personal transformation seminar that people pay $5,000 for. OK, it's a two-hour sampling of this annual mega event.
The title is meant to play on the expectation of people, perhaps like the Uber driver, who may think that filmmaker Joe Berlinger will blow the lid off some dark secret.
There is, after all, a lot of built-in cynicism about the self-help field. Berlinger is known for a tough approach to subject matter and taking on social issues (Brother's Keeper, Whitey, Crude, the Paradise Lost trilogy).
A big goal of the film, Berlinger says, is to reach people who would not normally be open to inner reflection.
"If people spend two hours, the running time of the movie, thinking about their lives in a new and profound way and feel like they have can make a change in their life, I would consider that a success," he says.
The film's name is meant to be provocative. In Berlinger's view: "What's brilliant about Tony is that he's not here to tell you specifically what actions to take. He gives you the tools to make your own best decisions, so it's not like you're following a set of teachings, the way a guru typically would."
The film is akin to a concert film, offering an as-if-you-are-there experience. It's not for everyone, as Berlinger acknowledges: "As Taylor Swift says, the haters are going to hate. And the Tony fans are going to love whatever I put on the screen."
He had his own strong reservations when he attended the Date With Destiny event years ago when wrestling with his own life issues. He went at Robbins's invitation after meeting him socially.
A few hours into the event, which is loaded with group singing and dancing and telling strangers intimate secrets, he fled the room on the first break. He says he thought: "'Oh my God, I can't believe I'm here for six days.'" He called his wife: "'What do I do, I don't want to insult the guy, but I can't last six days here.'" He stuck it out, and ultimately the exercises had a profound effect, and he wanted to share the experience.
Berlinger, allowing that to some he might sound "Pollyannish," says he sees the film as a continuation of his work in documentaries.
"If people were more connected to who they are, were more fulfilled, had more happiness in their life, felt connected to one another, then perhaps there would be fewer social ills for documentarians to point their camera at," he says.