Finally, Nashville has brought its "A" game to Tennessee filmmaking.
After Memphis gave us Hustle & Flow and Knoxville joined in with The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, it remained to be seen whether Music City would be able to come up with a locally made film that would make people sit up and take notice. With Two Weeks it has, and with nationwide distribution, at that.
Writer/director/producer Steve Stockman makes his feature film debut with this semi-autobiographical film, and if its mise-en-scène is a little shaky, his gifts as a writer are beyond reproach. There are so many little details that ring true to any family that has weathered the experience of watching a loved one succumb to cancer, and Stockman deserves credit for keeping the material engaging and forthright at all times.
What's most refreshing about Two Weeks is its rigorous downplaying of sentimentality. It has moments of awkward teariness and bonding remembrances, but they feel real. If the film's structure may elliptically call to mind a Lifetime "Disease of the Week" film, its execution is steeped in dark humor and a respect for the horror of the flesh. The film's R rating is explained away by the MPAA because of "language, including sexual references," but I guarantee that it's partly due to the film's insistence on letting you know how intestinal tumors completely change the digestive and excretory systems, and refusing to keep veiled the physical violation of cancer. It's hardcore stuff, and the cast - including Sally Field (as the dying mother), Ben Chaplin, Tom Cavanagh and Julianne Nicholson - handles the material well.
What is most devastating about the film is the realization that there simply aren't any families untouched by cancer. Morphine dispensers, funeral spreadsheets, refrigerators full of homemade casseroles and meals from friends and loved ones who can't do anything else . . . these are all touchstones for our modern lives. I could hear recognition and reconciliation in the whispers, laughs and strangled sobs of the crowd at every point.
There's an honesty to this film's portrayal of what cancer does to family dynamics as well as what it does to the body. There's no hiding behind false and dishonest pleasantry, and that alone sets it light years ahead of most films that focus on terminal disease.
It may seem like a dime-a-dozen indie at first glance, but Nashville can be proud of this movie, a rough little gem that speaks volumes to the talent we have in our film industry.
NOW PLAYING: Green Hills 16, Opry Mills 20, Thoroughbred 20
RATED: R, for language, including some sexual references. 1 hour, 38 min.
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