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Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Young Woman Decides Her Own Fate In Death With Dignity Inspired "CHOICE: 'Mother'"

"CHOICE: 'Mother'" (2015)
Genre: Drama
Length- 7:13
Company:  Halsey Films

A young woman (Kelly Driscoll)  is interviewed by a television personality (Hannah Ryan) for her decision to die with dignity after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

THE PURPOSE

"Choice: 'Mother'" is the first in a series of short films dealing with death and dignity.  This entry is directed by Joseph A. Halsey, who we've featured here on Forest City Short Film Review previously as the lead actor in "Junkie Heaven" and had an important role in "Leaving", which was directed by one of the producers of this film, Debra Markowitz.

It's an interesting, if not particularly original idea for a film -- the whole "death with dignity" thing has been done several times now (see "Promise Me" by Kevin Machate, a short film reviewed here a few months back, as an example).  The main problem with these kinds of films is that they come off as more of a soapbox, or an informational tool, than a film, which should always primarily be about entertainment.

WHY "DEATH WITH DIGNITY" CAN'T MAKE A GREAT FILM

The problem is that there's no story to tell about death with dignity: a person's going to die, they choose to die sooner to forego the pain and suffering of a natural death.  There's only two possible conflicts we could show here.  One is to give us a character suffering, and who is trying to decide whether to in fact go through with it or not.  But in all these films, it's definitive: they're GOING to do it, it's just a matter of when.

Now then, the OTHER possibility would be to have family members who disagree with their loved one's decision, and then have the issue blow up and see who can pick up the pieces, as in the aforementioned "Promise Me".  But that's a pretty sensitive topic, and those who disagree with the dying person are inevitably seen by audience members as mean and insensitive.  So for this storyline to work, it has to be handled extremely carefully.

Death with dignity, for it to make a great, entertaining movie, ought to be a THEME, and not the story.  It should be part of a metaphor in the background, rather than front and center, because the power and passion of the topic has a tendency to smother all other story elements.

THE FILM AS A WHOLE

All my complaints thus far have been about the writing, but what about the movie itself?  The production values are stellar, the look and feel of the film are top notch and the casting is superb.  It looks like a movie far more expensive than what it no doubt was, and with the performances we get from the actresses and the weary but unwavering directorial eye of Halsey behind the camera and Marc Riou as Director of Photography, there's an emotional punch to be had to almost every scene.

Of particular note is Driscoll -- her performance is note for note perfection.  She feels genuine, completely unrehearsed, and she has just enough "off the cuff"-feeling moments in her interview responses that if I didn't know this was a fictional story, I might question whether this was possibly a true story.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The script, written by David Spaltro and Halsey, works as a soapbox but falls short as an entertaining short film.  The dialogue feels real and the characters act like real people, but when push comes to shove, there's just nothing going on behind the curtains: without conflict, we have no story.  Without story, we have no film.   I suppose you could say the conflict is inside our lead, but that conflict isn't given any screen time.  The conflict has to be front and center, always.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  An understated turn behind the camera for Halsey, but it's exactly what this film needs to succeed visually.  Not every film needs to feel like an MTV video, and he gets that, but he adopts just a hint of the shaky cam which subconsciously carries the weight of our protagonist's decision with every slow, thoughtful camera move.
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film moves quickly and no shot overstays its welcome.  Robert La Rosa does a great job editing here, and Marc Riou's coloring gives the film a cinematic, desaturated look that lends some much needed gravitas.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Very minimalist, but all the dialogue is recorded perfectly and what music there is hits the spot.  Taylor Bradshaw and John Swanhart provide the soundtrack.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Genuine, heartfelt performances all around the board, particularly from Driscoll, who I hope we get to see a lot more of because she's quite a talent!  Roseanne Ryan, as the lead's mother, also deserves a mention because she is incredible as the supportive mom just trying to be a rock for her daughter.

Final Grade: 3.5 / 5.

Don't forget to check out the trailer for "CHOICE: 'Mother'" and learn more about the series by clicking here!

For more information about the Death with Dignity Acts, visit the official website right here.




Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!