Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2021 10:58 pm 
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The addict and the dying lady

This is a set of rough topics to deal with, a terminally ill old lady who uses an old IOU to persuade a now 30-ish woman to help her end her life. Ostensibly it's in exchange for clean urine, so the younger woman, a drug addict, can con her parents into letting her go on staying with them. But in the end it's the friendship that develops, and the desire of the young woman, whose painkiller addiction has made her become a habitual liar, to do one true and honest thing.

I would be reluctant to say this story is implausible; anything can happen. The aim is to hold up the issue of assisted suicide. And from early on the elderly woman strongly reminded me of a friend of mine I met in a studio class when I was forty and she was just turning seventy. We remained best of friends till she passed at the age of eighty-two. Z. was so strong-willed, it seems quite likely she had willed herself to die in the hospital, once she was told that now her studio days would be over and so life would not be interesting. This old lady is feisty, but she has to have help.

There are things I don't like, and the drug addict and assisted suicide material makes the filmmakers' initial plan of this being a comedy with some drama seem clueless. As they progressed, they switched to seeing it as drama with some comedy. Maybe in the world of today's television it passes as a dry dramedy. Though the director, an editor by training, takes pride in his transitions and in his score (by friends he admires), I take issue with both. However the circumstances of this film are propitious and it comes through in touching and poignant scenes between two excellent actors who have fine rapport. The screenplay is by Annika Marks, who plays the role of the thirtyish addict Natalie Gallo. She wrote the piece for her costar, veteran actress Jenny O'Hara, who plays the elderly heart patient Eleanor Magno, and director Rich Newey, making his feature debut, is Annika's husband. He also is the editor and he and Annika collaborated at times on that. (Details in a Filmmaker interview.)

A personal touch is the use of a little powder blue Chevvy chosen as an exact match for a car Annika used to own. The fact that Natalie has an accomplished and loving family corresponds to things I've heard about addicts. There is a politically ambitious sister, Anya (Betsy Brandt) present in an early intervention scene, where it's clear her only concern is her own reputation and that too is plausible. Natalie's mother's loving attention and her doctor father's looking the other way have been enabling her for years through several failed rehabs, one of which is in progress as the action begins. All this is plausible. Natalie is attending 12-step meetings and lying about being clean, which is a trope that seemed over-familiar to me.

All is saved and objections begin to fade away when Eleanor appears at the spa where Natalie is working to persuade her to help her die. This certainly is not a familiar trope. Killing Eleanor turns into a road movie-buddy picture, a right-to-die Thelma and Louise, as Natalie must spring Eleanor from the dreadful nursing home where she is housed and they go off to a rural part of Michigan. From here on what makes this work is simply the spark and authenticity Annika Marks and Jenny O'Hara both bring to all their scenes. Special mention is due to excellent newcomer Jordan Arredondo as Dillon, the 19-year-old kid Natalie picks up in a bar for painkillers his father didn't use, and an uncomfortable bedroom scene whose contradictions concentrate all the confusion and falsity of Natalie's life very well.

Over a drugged Dillan, Natalie has a moment of realization and resolve. It's clear - and this too is plausible and true of addicts - that what she must do is stop lying. Any changes must start from there.

This is a flawed first film but one with many good ingredients and a story that may make it of special interest as concerning subjects people need to stop ignoring - the painful, useless extension of life by the medical industry and worthwhileness of being allowed to die on one's own terms.

Killing Eleanor, 104 mins., debuted at Savanah Oct. 29, 2020, showing at other virtual fests and playing in the Port Townsend Women & Film festival Apr. 2021 where it was the Audience Choice feature. It will be available to buy or rent from Oct. 12, 2021 through 1091 Pictures.

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