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April 3, 2011

The Dallas Film Festival is upon us. This makes me happy; I like living in a city where things happen, and I like even more when I get to participate in them. This afternoon, after church, we met up with some friends in the mall food court across the street from our kidss school. As we were leaving the food court, a pleasant young man who turned out to be a production intern working on one of the films gave us some free passes to see a film called Snowmen.

“You all look you just came from church,” said the extremely pleasant production intern. “It’s a family friendly film from the producer of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ. Family friendly? “Yes,” assured the extremely pleasant production intern.

And so we got to see a real live movie screening, complete with swag in the form of little stuffed “Target” dogs in each movie seat. I heart swag.

The premise of the movie is that a dying kid with cancer overcomes unpopularity and sets a world record by building the most snowmen in a day.

A little kid with cancer. Bald. Dying. Mocked by his peers for his bald head.

It may be family friendly, but it’s not friendly to my particular family.

I’m the mom who deliberately shows my kids Lord of the Rings and Jaws and I’m about to unleash Alien on them, but a film about a kid whose cancer turns him into an elementary school pariah almost sent my daughter over the edge into a PTSDesque frenzy. She wanted to crawl over into my lap and comfort me and hug me and kiss me and tell everyone in the theater that I, too, had cancer, and thank heavens I had the presence of mind to lean over and whisper in her ear, “Cancer is a cheezy plot device to engage the audience’s emotions and build sympathy for the protagonist. He doesn’t really have cancer, he’s an actor who shaved his head, and anyway only really horrible people are mean to kids who have cancer. It’s a good movie, so don’t ruin it for yourself by freaking out because I had cancer four years ago.”

What I did not tell my daughter is that I had the privilege of being friends in junior high and high school with a kid who was bald, and that the film underplayed how horrible kids can be. I think I’ll save that discussion for another day, maybe after we watch Alien, to explain emotionally healthy versus unhealthy ways to explore differences between people and healthy ways to channel rage. I don’t know how much of the readership of this blog consists of people I went to junior high with, but please know, if you are one of the boys who called my friend “Wiggy” and beat him up in the boy’s locker room because he refused to take off his wig and show you his bald head, when I grow up to be a famous writer, I’m going to ask my friend’s permission and then write about that incident and name you by name and describe you and satirize all of your shortcomings and mock your current life failures in the face of my friend’s brilliant success. I knew I was in for a good movie when I saw that exact scene played out over again. Someone who made Snowmen had real life experience with cancer.

On the surface, Snowmen is a mawkish exploitative tale about a dying kid with cancer who mobilizes the whole school, defeating a bully along the way, to help him find immortality by getting into the Guinness Book of World Records. Scratch a little and it’s a whole lot more than that. Snowmen is a story about the sacrifices parents make for their children. It’s a story about death, and life, and trying to find meaning at the point where the two intersect with a brilliant cameo by Christopher Lloyd. But most of all, it’s a story about how hard it is to have cancer, and not die.

Someone else, not just me, gets it.

It was a tight movie, well-paced, well-written, with acting that was good in most places and great in quite a few, including a brilliant comic role with a poignant turn by our favorite stock crime villain Ray Liotta.

At first I found the father-as-sleazy-used-car-salesman to be trite and the Jamaican kid from across the street to be overtly token and overdrawn at that, but a quick bit of internet sleuthing revealed that the film’s auteur, Rob Kirbyson, wrote the story to honor Howard, his childhood best friend from across the street, who was from Jamaica, and who died tragically, as well as his own father, who died from leukemia when Kirbyson was 13 years old.

Someone in the production of Snowmen has real life experience with cancer.

That’s what art is all about: telling a story about what matters.

It was a good movie. I’m glad I saw it.

It’s been scheduled for release on DVD in Wall-Mart and Target for the Holiday season, with maybe a broadcast showing and, with luck, opening in theaters this fall. If it comes to a movie theater near you, it’s worth the $10 and two hours.

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  1. Me too permalink

    We saw it too. It was a good show. Moved me to tears… But I’m glad I got a confirmation on what I already know…
    “All dogs go to heaven”. 

  2. thanks for the review! Your children have a great mom. ❤

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