Directed by Thom Fitzgerald
Written by Thom Fitzgerald,
Steve Hillyer and Tim Marback
Starring Don McKellar, Parker Posey
and Olympia Dukakis
The new movie from Thom Fitzgerald ( The Hanging Garden) is titled The Event though, frankly, it isn't much of one. Here's a movie about AIDS and euthanasia released 20 years after the onset of the AIDS epidemic, a decade since the Hollywood AIDS movie Philadelphia, and seven years after Randall Kleiser's similarly themed It's My Party. Though it uses the September, 2001, World Trade Center attacks as background, the movie feels like a nineties' artifact, less the AIDS-crisis wake-up call it purports to be than a melodramatic free ride.
The opening scene shows the body of Matt (Don McKellar) being pushed into a body bag by paramedics. From there, the narrative unfolds in Citizen Kane-style flashbacks, as a brittle assistant district attorney named Nick (Parker Posey) interrogates Matt's colourful family and friends. Gradually she uncovers their conspiracy of kindness and reconstructs the circumstances leading to Matt's death.
Right away, the setup presents the viewer with a couple of credibility hurdles: Posey, the neurotic indie-film queen, toddles about Manhattan affecting a come-and-go New Yawk accent like a debutante playing dress-down. Then there's the peculiar nature of her crusade. Though we are offered large hints that she's working out guilt issues about her father's death, are we expected to believe that, in the months following Sept. 11, New York's D.A.'s office is obsessed with investigating slightly premature AIDS-related deaths?
In any case, it becomes an excuse for the film's interrogation-room flashback structure, a format much loved by television police procedural dramas. Nick's first interview is with Brian (Brent Carver), an agitated AIDS hospice worker and friend of Matt's. The interview chain proceeds with Matt's plucky and wise Jewish mother (Olivia Dukakis), his actress sister (Sarah Polley), and disapproving elder sibling (Joanna P. Adler).
The flashbacks take us from Brian's first meeting with the bon vivant Matt on an airplane to Matt's physical decline and the ever-increasing aggregation of barely sketched characters that become part of his life.
Soon, Matt ends back at his mother's New Jersey home, bedridden and incontinent, before he makes the decision to have his suicide party, which leads to the deep plunge into bathos in the film's final act.
Matt, still on his feet to the last, waxes sardonic. The inclusive parade of eccentrics include the butch but flamboyant drag queen who videotapes the event; a precious New Age lesbian therapist (Jane Leeves of Frasier fame), and Matt's resilient mom and overwrought sister.
Fitzgerald has made non-stereotypical casting choices (straight actors playing gay, Canadians WASPs playing New York Jews), which may have been at least partly dictated by co-production financing restraints. Apart from Parker, the performances are off-kilter but not too jarring, and McKellar's cocky but understated charm and Dukakis's telegraphed stoical suffering are an interesting fit.
Some of Fitzgerald's other choices are much harder to fathom. The film, shot on digital video in smoky grey, blue and sepia, looks deliberately dull, or, as several viewers have noted, like a sub-standard Law and Order episode. The soundtrack is a baffling hodgepodge, featuring improbable seventies' Cancon rhythm-and-blues selections (Lighthouse; Blood, Sweat and Tears) along with a contemporary number, the spooky, ethereal I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy by Antony and the Johnsons.
The latter song arrives in time to set off a series of Matt's postdeath messages (a videotape, a phone message), which begin to feel like a revenge on the living, an annoying series of jerks on the same mawkish chain. Whether the viewers leave the theatre in a puddle of tears or in high irritation, the problem withThe Event remains the same: It's a movie about a nice guy with a lot of friends who dies. It's not really about the wider tragedy the film aspires to represent.