Not in a long time has a movie about dying been so beautiful, funny and honest.
I think about big-budget films on the topic with major Hollywood stars like My Sister’s Keeper, A Walk To Remember and Life As A House, the latter being a major go-to for me.
And yet, with William D. MacGillivray’s first directorial feature effort in five years, he captures the intricacies, emotions and both the pitfalls and the unexpected peaks of caring for a dying loved one better than any Hollywood film I’ve ever seen.
I often say the last three weeks I got to spend with my grandfather when we found out he had cancer in his stomach culminated in the most rich, animated, heartfelt moments I ever spent with him.
Something about the knowledge one’s going to pass on before they actually do gives you a feeling that, for whatever time they have left, you’ll do what you can to make them comfortable. So watching the lives of Jenny, her husband Phil and their teen daughter Maggie all shift to Jenny’s brother Joe as he slowly succumbs to a brain tumour feels pretty normal.
The performances and pitch-perfect tone make MacGillivray’s Under The Weather an unparalleled drama of significant emotional maturity.
Stephen Oates — known mostly for Old Dog, but I loved him in Incredible Violence — is a well-drawn, multifaceted character who is the beating heart of the film. And yet, shot-for-shot, it’s Ruth Lawrence — who also directed FIN gala selection Little Orphans — who provides a stalwart, intense performance as Jenny.
The ensemble is fantastic, but those two really stand out in a film that makes me proud to be from the Maritimes.
What MacGillivray has pulled off here is a bonafide masterclass in filmmaking, and if I have to wait five years to get this sort of quality from him, I’ll do it any time.