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Posts Tagged ‘leukaemia’

About 30 (!) years ago, my mum and I went to the cinema to see Dying Young, a film starring Julia Roberts, still a major star riding high on the success of Pretty Woman: and Campbell Scott, a beautiful young man on whom I developed an instant huge crush which endures to this day. Roberts played Hilary, a streetwise, tough-but-vulnerable city girl from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, who takes a job as a nurse for Victor, a well-educated young man from a wealthy family, who has terminal leukaemia. Ordinarily their paths would never cross, but they inevitably fall in love and discover that they have plenty to teach each other. Yes, it’s Pretty Woman with the prostitution removed and a timebomb of an illness added. I rewatched the film a few years ago, and despite its obvious flaws, I still enjoyed it.

Anyway…this book by Marti Leimbach is the story which the film was based on, and this was my first time reading it. For anyone else who has seen the film, be aware that I am playing fast and loose with the words “based on.” The story was transplanted from rural Massachusetts in the book to San Francisco, and in the book Hilary is a persistent shoplifter, while Victor is cruel and unkind most of the time – in the film there is no sign of either of these traits.

In the book, which is told entirely from Hilary’s point of view, Hilary and Victor have already moved away to Hull, a small town where everyone knows each other, to get away from Victor’s father, who wants Victor to continue his treatment for leukaemia. Victor meanwhile has decided to give up all treatment and just enjoy what time he has left. He and Hilary fight a lot, and she has an affair with a local man named Gordon. As if this isn’t complicated enough, Gordon and Victor become friends. Hilary is torn between her love for these two very different men as well as being wracked with guilt, and all three of them have some big decisions to make about their respective futures.

Honestly I am not sure what to think about this book. It’s certainly an interesting situation, and it was an easy undemanding read, despite the subject matter. However, the main problem is that I didn’t feel that any of the characters were particularly well fleshed out so it was hard to get a read on them. I did feel more for Victor; he could be unkind, but it seemed fairly clear that it was an angry reaction to the hand that life had dealt him, although he lashed out (verbally) at Hilary – she being his only available target – which was unfair.

The story was fairly slow moving, which was fine, and almost felt like a series of vignettes strung together, rather than a continuous narrative. I don’t mind this style of writing, but it might not appeal to some readers.

I won’t give away the ending, suffice to say that I found it downbeat and somewhat unlikely. Overall I have mixed feelings and I’m unsure whether or not I would read anything else by this author. However, I applaud her for not taking the easy route with this situation and for writing characters, who ordinarily readers would want to side with, but who in this case are not always easy to like.

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I’ve had this film on my planner for ages, and somehow never fancied watching it. But today, with a lazy day to myself, I finally took the plunge – and I have to say, it exceeded all of my expectations, made me feel every emotion, and was well….generally brilliant.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high schooler who is determined to avoid all the typical cliques and instead stays on the periphery of all high school groups (such as the jocks, the geeks, the stoners, etc). He doesn’t like to get close to people and his only friend – although Greg doesn’t like the word ‘friend’ so instead uses the term ‘co-worker’ – is the titular Earl (R J Cyler). The two of them spend their time making so-bad-they’re-good spoof movies such as Brew Velvet, A Sockwork Orange, Yellow Submarine Sandwich, and (my particular favourite title) 2.48pm Cowboy.

When Greg’s mother tells him he must be friends with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a schoolmate who he hardly knows and who has been diagnosed with leukaemia, he is initially reluctant, but what starts out as an awkward situation soon becomes a real connection. Earl is also drawn into the friendship.

Given that the film is narrated by Greg, and Rachel is the centre of his and Earl’s attention, it’s actually the character of Earl who I found most interesting. On the surface he seems like a bit of a slacker, but he reveals surprising depth and perception.

It’s a beautifully told story – it did make me laugh and also made me cry. Most importantly, it made me feel for all of the characters – the three main characters, Rachel’s mom Denise (played by the always brilliant Molly Shannon), even the relative small character of their teacher Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal). They are all believable, fully fleshed out characters. The three youngsters – all of which actors were unknown to me – were brilliant, and the supporting cast did a great job too.

I really enjoyed this film and have no hesitation in recommending it.

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Full disclosure: The first time (and only time until now) that I watched this film was when it first came out in 1991, at the cinema.  At that time, it resonated strongly with me, because I was head-over-heels in (unrequited) love with a young man, who was very ill and was receiving chemotherapy.

So 23 years later, in entirely different circumstances, I was not sure if I would enjoy it as much as I did previously.  It did however have the advantage of starring Campbell Scott, who is an actor I always enjoy watching.  He plays Victor Geddes, a 28 year old man who has had Leukemia for 10 years.  He hires Hilary (Julia Roberts) as a carer, to help him with the debilitating effects of his treatment.  They end up falling in love when Victor is in remission, but when he becomes ill again, their relationship is put under tremendous strain.

As it turned out, I did enjoy watching this film again.  Admittedly, it is flawed in places, and the Hilary character in particular is a bundle of cliches, but despite this, it is still a very moving and emotional story.  Campbell Scott was always a perfect choice to play Victor, and he did an excellent job at portraying the young man’s frustration and anger, as well as his determination to enjoy whatever time he has left.  He has a beautiful fragility and gentleness about him, and it is easy to understand how he and Hilary – who come from entirely different backgrounds, and initially struggle to understand each other – end up falling in love.  At one point, he decides that he is no longer going to receive treatment for his disease, and is going to let things play out as they will.  His feelings are entirely reasonable, but so are those of Hilary and his father, who don’t want him to give up.

Overall, I would say that this is a film well worth seeing, but make sure you have tissues handy, because you will cry.

Year of release: 1991

Director: Joel Schumacher

Producers: Sally Field, Mauri Syd Gayton, Duncan Henderson, Kevin McCormick

Writers: Marti Leimbacj (novel), Richard Friedenberg

Main cast: Campbell Scott, Julia Roberts, Vincent D’Onofrio, Colleen Dewhurst

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