January 22, 2010 / by tom
“Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!” Throughout the late ‘30s and early ‘40s Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland starred in a series of films that immortalized that line; a line that also serves as a plot synopsis. Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway, Girl Crazy, Strike up the Band all fit this mold. Now, it might seem odd to start of a review of the new film Extraordinary Measures by referencing silly 70-year old musicals. Based on the book The Cure, the film in question stars Brendan Fraser as John Crowley, father of two terminally ill children, Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez). Upon realizing that he can no longer afford to wait for a cure, he tracks down Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford ) a scientist of the eccentric variety (are there any other kind?) and convinces him to create a biotech start-up so they can create their own medicine. Naturally, all this would be ludicrous were it not based on a true story. Of course, just because a story is “true” doesn’t necessarily mean that the movie is “good.” Case in point. [morelink]
The disease in question is Pompe Disease, a rare form of muscular dystrophy in which build-up of glycogen causes progressive muscle weakness eventually leading to respiratory failure or an enlarged heart or liver. Most people who suffer from the illness spend their lives wheelchair-bound and don’t typically make it past the age of 9. The film ham-handedly imparts this information just in time to cut to Megan’s 8th birthday party. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.
Look, it’s hard to review movies about real diseases and the real kids that really have them. There’s always some poor parent out there raising a kid struggling with the malady in question, and these movies are deeply personal to them. But the simple fact of the matter is the movie’s just not very good. Glacially paced and poorly shot, it’s quite nothing more than a Hallmark Chanel movie writ large. There’s nothing unique or creative about the film. Stonehill, who’s not a real person but an amalgam of scientists, is your typical “loose-cannon” whose methods are “too crazy” for the staid medical establishment. The methods? He doesn’t like to be interrupted and, um…he likes to listen to loud classic rock while he ruminates. Yeah, that’s about it. Meanwhile Fraser is relegated to watery-eyed soliloquies about how scientists need to care more.
The movie consistently gets little things wrong. For example, for a family with two children in wheelchairs, the Crowleys have an odd propensity for buying two-story homes. At various points in the film we see the Crowleys’ living in two separate staircase-laden dwellings. And there’s something disconcerting about the actors cast to play their children. In real life, the Crowleys’ children have distorted features due to the horrific disease with which they’re afflicted. So it’s somewhat disconcerting to see them being played by adorable moppets without a trace of the physical signs of illness, other than the fact that they spend the film in wheelchairs and have respirators. While I realize that casting child actors with the actual disease would most likely not have been in the best interest of the actors in question, more care should have been taken to present the victims of this disorder in a realistic fashion.
Make no mistake; the Crowleys did an amazing thing. (Oh, um…SPOILER ALERT…the kids live. I mean c’mon…the book was called The Cure. What did you think happened?) It took courage (and perhaps a touch of hubris) to walk away from a secure job with unfathomably important health benefits in order to play beat-the-clock with a biotech long shot. It’s a miraculous story that deserves to be told, it just deserves a better telling.