Doc of the Day: So Much So Fast Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: So Much So Fast

Posted in Days of Docs by - March 15, 2012

One man is diagnosed with ALS. His life and family face a countdown.

Dir. Steven Ascher & Jeanne Jordan, 2006, 87 min

If the Heywood family is anything to go by, a fatal illness doesn’t really cast a pall of doom over life. Rather, a sense of normalcy becomes helpful, if not vital. Stephen Heywood was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, at age 29, but despite the gradual shutdown of his body, he and his loved ones maintained a surprisingly calm life, not that different from one unburdened by medical hardship. So Much So Fast follows the Heywoods through five years of bizarre normality.

While Stephen is the one afflicted with a condition that slowly destroyed his ability to move, his brother James is the one who let it truly change his life. Stephen steadfastly committed to living as much as possible, getting married, having a kid, and getting that motorcycle he always wanted. James created, from the ground up, an organization dedicated to curing ALS. With the typical life expectancy of an ALS sufferer lying between 2 and 5 years, it was one helluva ticking timer.

ALS was, and to some degree still is, a mostly unexplored disease. Since relatively few people worldwide contract it, and the prognosis for them is so dire, drug companies aren’t willing to invest significant time and money to research a cure, or even treatment. James becomes something of a medical renegade, bypassing many standard scientific procedures in pursuit of a solution. His organization, the ALS Therapy Development Foundation, posts their findings on the internet instead of submitting them for peer review, for crying out loud! In contrast to Stephen’s measured sense of calm and acceptance, James is relentless, twisting optimism into a strange form of defiance.

But through all the battles, life goes on. Stephen still works as an architect, even as he loses function in his legs, even as he has to dictate his plans to assistants, even after he must use a Stephen Hawking-like voice modulator to give instructions. He still plays video games, still raises his son, still loves his wife. He models a healthy, loving life, just in a slightly adjusted version to what we’re used to. He and James offer contrasting reactions to mortality, and, as always, you can extrapolate it as a view of how most people struggle between acceptance and defiance of fate.

Directors Steve Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, known for their Oscar-nominated Troublesome Creek, inject themselves into the story at odd points. They are candid about their personal connection to the subject, as Jordan’s own father succumbed to ALS a few years before they found the Heywoods. They become a regular part of Stephen and James’ family life, and yet it still feels odd whenever they acknowledge that they are being filmed. The couple’s presence isn’t prevalent enough that it feels organic for them to be there. Either the filmmakers should have been ignored, or featured more.

Most of the time, So Much So Fast doesn’t feel like a movie about a man facing imminent death. This is a testament to how it succeeds at conveying its themes. I’ve said this multiple times, but it’s true: all movies about death are really about life (And vice versa. That’s why Last Holiday with Queen Latifah was such a failure. Well, among other reasons). The human spirit, or whatever you call it, is such that not even the proven immediacy of death can shift our daily living. And I think there’s something inspiring about that.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

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