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A boy, Dylan (Michael Angarano), in grade ten with terminal cancer gets a last wish from the Wish Givers Foundation. His makes a new wish which seems a little inappropriate. As his last wish he wants to be with a super model (Sunny Mabrey) for a week alone. At first Nikki (Mabrey) has pity for him but soon it turns into love. Written by
I had the great pleasure of seeing One Last Thing this weekend at the Philadelphia Film Festival. Twice, in fact Saturday night's East Coast Premiere and a second screening on Sunday.
The plot involves a 16 year-old (Dylan, played by Michael Angarano) who has a terminal illness. He is given a "last wish" by a national foundation, and making that wish come true is the essence of the story. The wish, and I know I'm not giving anything away here, is to spend a weekend with his favorite supermodel. I generally dislike "reviews" because they invariably give too much away, and that is especially true in this case. So in lieu of posting spoilers, I'll just discuss some general impressions of the film and performances.
Since the earliest days of theater, tragedy and comedy often go hand-in-hand, and it's at the heart of this story. As they say, "you'll laugh, you'll cry" and the audience did. The director, writer, and two of the film's lead actors all hail from the Philadelphia area, which also serves as the setting for much of the film and supplies fodder for the script. Yet I have no doubt that audiences elsewhere will "get the joke" and be able to relate to the working class, oil refinery town which is home to Dylan's family and friends.
The power of this film comes from the script by Barry Stringfellow and a brilliant cast, led by Michael Angarano. Arguably the most sought-after teenage actor in America, Angarano is finally beginning to tackle some powerful leading roles, with the soon-to-be released Bondage (which I saw at its World Premiere last month at SXSW) and now with One Last Thing. As Sky High's Will and Lords of Dogtown's Sid we saw just a hint of the powerful range of Angarano's abilities, and in One Last Thing he uses both his comedic talents as well as dramatic ones in a way that we haven't really seen before. If you liked Sid, you'll love Dylan.
Angarano has an uncanny ability to make us laugh when we want to cry and to make us cry when we want to laugh. It's a real gift, and one which is evident in films like Dear Wendy and Lords of Dogtown. But here is able to use that gift from opening to closing credits. It's no wonder that director Alex Steyermark says that Angarano was really his only choice for this role. Anyone who has seen his films will not be surprised at how elegantly he slips into this character, but no doubt others who are not as familiar with his body of work will discover what many already know.
To say that this is a film about a boy's carnal desires in his last days is to miss the point. Even more than that, One Last Thing is about coping with loss a son's loss of his father and a mother's loss of her son. It's also about the search for love. "Carpe diem," if you will. The mother here is Cynthia Nixon, who is absolutely heartbreaking in a performance that can only come from deep within. This is a role that lesser actors would find daunting. Who among us hasn't experienced a similar loss? On the other hand, nothing can compare to seeing your child go before you do.
The "love object" (of Dylan there are others here) is played by Sunny Mabrey. She is the image that has been but a poster on his wall, and his quest to fulfill his dream is only as powerful in its resolution as Mabrey is in her ability to make a petulant supermodel a sympathetic character. But she pulls it off effortlessly. Dylan's partners in crime are his two best buds, Slap and Ricky (Gideon Glick and Matt Bush), who provide much of the comic relief in what would otherwise have threatened to be a heavy-handed statement on death and spiritual belief. Their lines elicit the most laughs and the fact that these were two "real" teenagers, both acting in their first film, gives their performances a ring of truth which more jaded veterans might actually have had to fight to find.
But what struck me more than anything was just how incredibly economical Steyermark and editor Michael Berenbaum are in their work. This is one of the most efficiently constructed films I've ever seen. The tendency lately seems to be to build slowly, sometimes spending up to a third of the film on character development before you begin to see the story unfold. Not here. The basic plot is presented in the very first scene, literally in the opening minutes of the film. From that point on not a moment is wasted not a shot, not a line, not a frame. Every second here is valuable to the story and yet nothing feels rushed. What a breath of fresh air this was in a season of pretentious, "look-at-me-I'm-an-indie-filmmaker" projects.
Don't let the "teen sex comedy" poster or the ad blurbs fool you. This is a dark comedy in the true sense of the word, packed with the kind of gallows humor that is made especially poignant when the subject is a high school kid. I was moved by One Last Thing, and it will leave you thinking in my book, the definition of a film that has hit its mark.
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