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A small indie film with a keen focus on one 28 year old’s final birthday.
Review (with Spoilers)
Let it be known, this is a straight up indie film. There are no famous names, acting nor producing, and it seems very much like a labor of love. With that comes a lot of constraints which require some forgiveness, but is there enough here to warrant watching? Details below.
Characters & Story
Leigh (Adriene Mishler) is a girl with seemingly her whole life ahead of her. She is married to this nice guy named Winston (Jonny Mars), has just bought a house with him, and is ready to make a family. However, a series of diagnosis quickly turn this 28-year old’s dreams into things which may never see reality. So, on her birthday, she lets all her friends, and brother, know what is going on. Though she leaves one detail out, of which she relies on her husband to keep secret.
This film is emotionally draining, which considering the subject matter is perhaps a good thing. Mind you, though, it may not make you cry unless the subject matter is a close one. With that said, though, I feel what was presented definitely has enough weight to get to you. Leigh is fleshed out enough that you do feel something for her as we hear about her struggle from her perspective, Winston’s, and her best friend Alice’s (Samantha Thomson). What also helps is the performance by her brother Morris (Jeff Benson) who is emotionally awestruck by Leigh’s decision to the point he drinks himself into a stupor and starts apologizing for stuff he did as a kid.
As for the rest of her friends, though at first you may not fully understand their place in the movie, or at least I didn’t, you realize later on that they represent the possible future Leigh and Winston could have had. Jake (Alex Karpovsky) & Lucy (Lauren Clifton) represent the worst case scenario if their relationship continued; Charlie (Todd Berger) and Sue (Elizabeth Riley) represent the, I won’t say best, but the scenario, in terms of having a kid, they hoped for; and I’d like to say Ruth (Parisa Fakhri) and Hamilton (Jason Newman) are what Leigh and Winston would have been if they didn’t fall in love. Hell, maybe Max (Chris Doubek) could represent an alternative life Winston could have had if he left Leigh.
And strangely, overall, though there aren’t any over dramatic monologues, big fights, or anything too over the top, the film has some sort of impact. I think part of it comes from it just not using bells and whistles and really trying to depict things almost like it was true to life. The camera’s shakiness almost makes it feel like someone is watching the whole thing for a documentary and it brings this somber tone to everything. And while I haven’t truly lost someone to the ailment Leigh has, the longer I sit and think about this movie, and take note of the different perspectives each character has about losing her, I find myself more and more drained, almost to the point of wanting to cry.
But, even with saying that, let me state this film isn’t perfect. For one, if you base things solely on what is presented on the surface, without thinking too deep about what is presented, you will wonder why Jake, Lucy, Charlie, Sue, Ruth, and Hamilton are there. Yes, they seemingly are friends of Leigh or Winston, but they don’t present any real type of emotional connection to the point you could understand why Leigh would invite them to her party to be anything besides a seat filler. And part of the reason is because only Alice, Winston, and Leigh are given the ability to really walk us through Leigh going through being diagnosed and chemotherapy. Everyone else is just there, and though Sean Gallagher explains doing this as peelings away an onion, as a viewer, unless you are deeply into connecting the dots, it really makes the other characters seem like extra fat to push the movie into being longer than 45 minutes.
To further explain, as you could imagine, everyone in the cast has their own problems which have nothing to do with Leigh. And, to me, it was both strange that a lot of them felt barely connected to Leigh, much less their personal stories felt so bleh that I really didn’t feel inspired to care. Be it marital issues, or just not finding yourself really in life, I saw each side story as sort of dull and two dimensional.
Overall: TV Viewing
The heart of the film is what makes this worth seeing. Leigh is played just right by Mishler and she isn’t over calculating her diagnosis like Emma Thompson did in Wit, nor are we witnessing her and her friends and family dealing with the varying stages of grief like in The Big C. After all, this isn’t a middle-aged woman with some form of accomplishments, this is a woman who is but an arm’s length away from 30. And Mishler and Mars play this angle in a really touching way. Almost to the point you wish they cut almost half the cast and really just focused on those who truly seemed actively there in their struggle. Which is why I say this is a TV Viewing type of film. It has heart, but it makes you wish there was a bit more focus on the core story for with each and every extra character, the film’s emotional impact feels more and more diluted to the point it feels like instead of having one comic relief character, 4+ characters were made to lessen the seriousness of the subject matter.