Cinema Signal:

Living with Life-Threatening Illness:
A Guide for Patients, Their Families, and Caregivers

. "The Event"

The subject of AIDS and suicide shouldn't be taken lightly. But nor should it be dealt with -- for maximum impact -- as heavily as director Thom Fitzgerald does here. This downer of a movie probes the details of one gay man's terminal illness to the point of overkill. It will assuredly resonate with those who have or have had direct experience with the ravages of the illness. Others should be put on notice that it contains a performance worthy of award consideration.

The event alluded to in the title is the celebratory party surrounding the patient's suicide to avoid the pain of natural termination. But the story starts after the event when assistant district attorney Nicole "Nick" Devivo (Parker Posey) launches an investigation into the death of Matt Shapiro (Don McKellar), a Manhattan musician, sheathing it in the trappings of a mystery. Her suspicions have been aroused by a succession of similar scenarios in which quick cremation and conspiratorial silence among witnesses is the hallmark.

As she interviews, pressures and cajoles the buttoned-up community of lovers and drag queens, director Thom Fitzgerald ("Blood Moon") uses flashbacks to define each character and relationship in the brief history of Nick's life, building a portrait of affability and intelligence, weaknesses and communal respect. The object is to build sympathy and to proseletyze the issues surrounding the dread disease. If the filmmaker wasn't so obviously drowning in grief and more able to present the significance of his friend's life more objectively, the film would have turned out to have a more universal impact. As it is, the over-detailed and personal tends to engulf us in a mire of overstatement that dulls the senses.

Rising up from that mire is Olympia Dukakis as the patient's mother Lila Shapiro. It's not that she's any less invested in the importance of the theme than the rest of the cast, but she's able to create the character of a mother who acknowledges her son's sexual preference in a way that could write the book on it, then has to go through the agonies of her son's decision to avoid the pain of natural termination by taking his own life.

The highlight moment of this performance arc of dignity and, perhaps, enlightenment, is the scene in the park when Matt reveals his intentions to her. The suffering of this moment stings with truth as it brings us in full contact with her emotional devastation. She's in a zone that sets a very high standard -- a moment that is well worth bringing all filmgoers into the theatre to witness what acting aspires to.

This certainly doesn't imply deficiency in other cast members. Parker Posey, while not afforded an opportunity to use the qualities that set her so far apart from her competition, becomes our observational voice and mind as the concealed event is layered away. Ruining her contribution, however, is the shameful way her part is developed to turn her character around for a too pat finale in which no one is allowed a dissent or an inkling of lack of support.

The intricate structure of the movie is well handled but its world is a stifling capsule. Worthy as the theme is, as relevant as the questions it raises are, the sheer length and repetitiveness of it makes you yearn for an escape before the final frames arrive.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Don McKellar and Olympia Dukakis
Son and mother in the core scene of the film.

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