Breathe

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Severe illness, medical situations with some graphic images, issue of assisted death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 20, 2017
Copyright 2017 Bleeker Street

“Plucky or pitiful?” a man asks his wife as they drive toward a grand British estate to beg for funding to provide wheelchairs for the severely disabled. They meet with a crusty old aristocrat (Diana Rigg, always a treasure) who says that normally she has no trouble turning people down but she feels she must say yes to them. And, because they are so dashed plucky, so do we.

Robin Cavendish called himself a “responaut,” a jaunty, adventurous term for a man who was completely paralyzed by polio in his 20’s. And this jaunty, adventurous, paralyzed man’s story is told, perhaps a little too lovingly, by his filmmaker son in “Breathe,” about Cavendish, who revolutionized the mobility and accessibility of the severely disabled in mid-century Britain.

But this film is less about his activism than it is about his love story. Robin (Andrew Garfield) married Diana (“The Crown”), and their unswerving devotion and determined spirits are the heart of the film.

Like “The Theory of Everything,” which it resembles, the movie opens with our hero doing something active. He races along in a car and then swings a cricket bat, trying to catch the attention of the bored beauty sitting by the tea table. Soon they are married and off to Kenya, where he is a tea broker and she goes along with him for the fun of it. They are blissfully happy until, just after she tells him she is pregnant, he becomes very ill with polio, paralyzed from the neck down, and given just three months to live.

She manages to get him back to England, where he is put in a ward with other paralyzed men. He cannot speak. He cannot move. He cannot think of any reason to see Diana or the baby or to try to live. When a priest comes by with platitudes, he manages to spit at him.

But Diana’s devotion and his restored ability to speak inspire him to insist on going home. Nothing like that has ever been tried before and the doctor in charge forbids it. Another patient bets him a fiver that he won’t last. But he does. And he works with a friend to invent a wheelchair with a respirator that gives him mobility.

First-time director Andy Serkis (the motion capture actor from “Planet of the Apes” and “Lord of the Rings”) has a disarmingly light touch. The escape from the hospital is accompanied by the kind of musical score we might expect in a heist film with more humor than tension. Plus, if there’s anything better than one Tom Hollander in a movie, it is two Tom Hollanders, utterly charming playing Diana’s affectionate but eccentric twin brothers. Most of the dialog is delivered with an understated smile, the kind of “Hullo, darling,” we used to get in movies of the 1930’s. I found that endearing. This is very much a love story, not just between Diana and Robin but between a son and his parents.

Parents should know that this film includes severe illness and paralysis, some graphic and disturbing images, some sexual references and situation, and the issue of assisted death.

Family discussion: What made Robin different from the other patients? Do you agree with his decision about when to die?

If you like this, try: “The Theory of Everything” and “The Intouchables”

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Stronger

B +

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some graphic injury images, and brief sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Constant very strong language, some crude
Violence/ Scariness: Drinking and drunkenness
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 22, 2017

Copyright 2017 Lionsgate
“Stronger.” As in the “Boston Strong” motto that the city claimed and earned following the terrible bombing at the finish line of one of the city’s most cherished annual events, the Boston Marathon. And “stronger” as in what that which does not defeat you makes you. “Stronger” is the real-life story of a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and who became a symbol of hope in the midst of wrenching loss. It is also the story of that man’s struggle to acknowledge to himself, his family, and the media the darker reality of his struggles with post-traumatic stress caused by the bombing, the long, slow, painful rehab, and by the pressure put on him by everyone to be a hero.

Imagine you are standing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon to cheer on your estranged girlfriend and then wake up in a hospital bed to the news that your legs are gone. What would be the first thing you would say?

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), still groggy from the anesthesia, shock and pain, unable to speak because of tubes, gestured for a pen. He wrote three messages. The first asked if the girl he was there to support was all right. She was. He then wrote “Lt. Dan,” as in the Gary Sinise character in “Forrest Gump,” who loses his legs in Vietnam.

And then he wrote: “I saw the bomber.”

Bauman’s description gave law enforcement essential details that helped them track down the Tsarnaev brothers.

Director David Gordon Green and screenwriter John Pollono, working from Bauman’s book are especially good at putting us in Jeff’s world, in the midst of his noisy, hard-drinking, combative, sports-loving, and fiercely loyal family. They travel as a pack.

Jeff’s divorced parents, Patty (Miranda Richardson) and Big Jeff (Clancy Brown), his brother and friends are there for him in the most literal sense, at the hospital. One of the movie’s best scenes is at the hospital just after the surgery, when Jeff’s supervisor from Costco (Danny McCarthy) arrives and they begin to yell at him and each other, partly because they are all frantic and need to let off steam and partly because they are the kind of people who yell a lot. When they discover he is there to provide insurance information and assure Jeff that he still has a job, it is deeply moving.

They are all there again when he returns to his mother’s apartment. They are more concerned about the party to welcome him home and the chance to show him all the letters and packages he has been sent than to consider the logistics of his having to maneuver up a steep staircase. Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who broke up with Jeff just before the marathon, becomes a full-time caretaker. He is under enormous pressure to be the resilient guy who came out of the hospital with a thumbs up sign for the cameras.

Gyllenhaal, who makes some of the most thoughtful and challenging choices of any actor his age, gives a performance of great sensitivity, capturing Jeff’s offhand, offbeat humor as well as his physical and emotional anguish. He shows us the integrity Jeff himself did not understand he had. In another exceptional scene, Jeff does very little talking. He finally agrees to meet Carlos (Carlos Sanz), the man in the cowboy hat who saved his life, and who was included with him in one of the iconic images captured that day. The story Carlos tells is a turning point for Jeff, and it is all in Gyllenhaal’s posture and expressions. There are huge cataclysmic events, but it is in the small details that this film has the most power.

Parents should know that this movie concerns a terrorist bombing with severe injuries and amputation, post-traumatic stress, drinking and drunkenness, nudity, a sexual situation, and constant very strong language.

Family discussion: What do the three comments Jeff wrote tell us about him? What did he learn from Carlos?

If you like this, try: “Patriot’s Day”

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The Big Sick

B +

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references
Profanity: Strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very serious illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 25, 2017
Copyright Amazon 2017

The more specific the story, the more universal. This is a very specific story. Indeed, you are unlikely ever again to see a romantic comedy with one of the pair spending half of the film in a coma. And that is not the couple’s biggest obstacle. Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”), plays a character named Kumail Nanjiani in a story based on his relationship to Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan and called Emily Gardiner in the film), who is now his wife and the co-screenwriter of the smart, touching, heartfelt and very funny film. It is beautifully directed by Michael Showalter, as always unsurpassed in meticulous casting of even the smallest roles.

Real-life Nanjiani and his movie alter ego are Pakistani immigrants from traditional families. Every time he visits his parents for dinner, an unmarried Pakistani woman “happens to drop in.” They have made it very clear that they expect him to marry a woman who is Pakistani and Muslim. Gordon is neither; she is white and from North Carolina. Just after they break up because he could not say that they could have a future together, she suddenly becomes critically ill and is placed in a medically induced coma.  He gets the call when she is hospitalized and has to be the one to call her parents. He meets them for the first time in the hospital waiting room, where they are understandably frosty (he broke their daughter’s heart) and preoccupied (she’s in a coma).

They would rather that he not be there. And his parents find out that he has not been honest with them and they tell him they cannot accept his feelings for Emily. So, in the second half of the movie there is another kind of love story, about the love between parents and their children and the partners their children choose.

It is also a story about a man learning to be honest with himself about who he is and what he wants. What lifts this out of the recent glut of arrested development movies is its compassion for all parties (the film nicely acknowledges that Nanjiani’s brother has a very successful and satisfying marriage arranged the traditional way and presents as one of the candidates a woman so seemingly perfect for him that we almost root for her) and Nanjiani’s thoughtful, self-deprecating but confident performance. The best stand-up comics mine their own lives for material, with observations that make us see our own lives, and especially our follies and irrationalities, in sharper relief — that’s relief in both senses of the word.

Best of all, the movie itself is proof that they lived happily ever after.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, family conflict, and very serious illness.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Kumail tell Emily about his family’s concerns? How should you decide what traditions to keep and which ones to leave behind?

If you like this, try: “Ruby Sparks” (also with Kazan, who wrote the screenplay) and “50-50” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, also based on a true story

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