Five (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Five (2011)

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Fun fact I did not discover until I was doing some post-film research: should you desire you can watch the entire film online and straight from the source here.

Emotional and practical reasons aside, Five is an anthology film, and those always interest me.  When they work there is a wonderful alchemy at play as various directors stretch their creative muscles to rally around a common theme.  So, with the best of intentions, I went straight into Five hoping for the best as some of my favorite films have been either adapted directly for television or released as an anthology.

Never let it be said the stories aren't economical, they all do tell self-contained stories that fit into the overarching disease theme in crisp twenty minute segments.  Overall this isn't something I could recommend, especially coming off a very recent viewing of Mike Nichols' cinematic adaptation of Wit, but if you are looking for some quick bonding time with a struggling loved one you could do far worse than the shorts here.

Since they vary so much in quality, here are quick reviews on each film.  The overall narrative centers around a cancer treatment facility that each film goes to at least once.  Just so we'll end on a positive note, I'll go from the worst to the best of the five.Cheyanne - Third short - Dislike - written by Howard J Morris, directed by Penelope Spheeris.

Until the legitimately effective final shot of the short, I thought that this entire segment was being played as some kind of cruel joke.  The man of the tale is a heavy who goes around collecting gambling debts from sarcastic losers who say things like, "Take my wife, please."  He meets Cheyanne, a stripper who decides to take the poor horny boy home after he tips her generously.  Soon they're dry humping on a counter and after a quick round of groping he finds a lump on her breast.

The setting pretty much destroys any attempt to ground the story in anything that's really conveys a real empathy for the characters.  Right after they're done with the groping the next shot shows that it's months later and they're married, but still bickering about her breasts.  Ridiculously heavy metaphors about gambling, going right back to that story killing setting, get clumsily inserted into the dialogue as Cheyanne refuses treatment and the heavy can only reiterate about the horrors of gambling (because he knows best.)  Empathy is reduced to a guy who sees his wife as a pair of breasts, horrifyingly she sees herself the same way, and then he beats up people with a bat.  This is horrid and can be skipped without missing anything.Pearl - Fifth short - Indifferent - written by Deirdre O'Connor, directed by Patty Jenkins.

Playing up the convention of dramatic irony to its fullest, the doctor who is a character in each short discovers she has breast cancer herself.  This is after a quick voice-over at the beginning discussing, in short, how each woman around her has been affected by breast cancer.  There's not much to say about this short because all it does is tie a nice ironic bow on the narrative arc between all the films and send everyone off hopeful.  The short preceding this, Lili, could have ended the series on a much higher note.Mia - Second short - Indifferent - written by Wendy West, directed by Jennifer Aniston.

This is basically the catch-all feel-good portion of the anthology.  It starts with the always radiant Patricia Clarkson giving new wedding vows to her smiling hubby-to-be in the middle of a field and then talking about beating the odds.  Heavy approach aside, it's always nice to see Clarkson doing any acting, and she provides the anthology with one of its only real jolts of energy.

The film itself makes a curious decision that undermines any dramatic potential of the scenario and her performance.  We start off seeing Mia getting married, then go six months back when she meets the disaffected man who she would later marry while trying to secure a bank loan.  After a fun scene of her picking apart his office to reveal his character, it jumps back eleven months with her then doctor telling her the cancer's gone.  Thirteen months and it's another fun scene at her living funeral telling off her friends and family.  On and on the short keeps sending her back in time to experience events we know she's going to live through.

That drains the film of any sort of tension and turns the entire thing into a fairy tale, but a dishonest one.  Structurally speaking there's no real reward seeing someone go through misery when we already know things are going to turn out alright in the end.  Even people going into Titanic experienced the tale from start to finish despite knowing how things were going to turn out.  The opening scene is just too directly connected to the others, the through-line is too easy.  Fairy tales work best as the story is being told, it's the surprise of the ending even if the story is familiar, and this one is happy to go down an easy path with all signs pointing toward the right way.Charlotte - First short - Like - written by Stephen Godchaux, directed by Demi Moore.

Played like a long lost demo reel for Mad Men , this short takes place just prior to the 1969 moon landing.  The distractions of television, booze, and cigarettes keep a family from telling a little girl that her mother is dying.  The broad implications are there as each member of the family takes pleasure in tactile distractions while real decay is going on just in the background and no one is willing to tell the young one the truth.

This is the only short that really tried to do something creative with the format and it paid off, but barely.  The actress assigned to the role of the little girl (who grows up to be Pearl) is terrible, overreacting to each moment and incapable of making expressions that fit in with the somewhat realistic universe around her.  But Moore turns out to have a pretty decent eye for compositions even if they could be accused of being a bit too direct, like an early through the rails shot establishing the family as a little prison.  Still, it works, and unfortunately set a slightly higher bar than most of the other shorts could not attain.Lili - Fourth short - Like - written by Jill Gordon, directed by Alicia Keys.

In tone and delivery, this short was unlike any of the others and featured the least overlap with the characters and dealt most directly with the clinic itself.  The two are somewhat related as instead of settling on a tone of dourness or bizarre violence it instead embraces a small collection of strong characters during a unique conversation.

Once again, this is one of the more memorable shorts due to the presence of another great performer, Rosario Dawson.  She spars with her incredibly attentive family with a quick wit and attention to detail that's no nonsense about everything, even her cancer.  There weren't straight up belly laughs but a lot of knowing smiles during the scene she tells her family about her disease and they react with overbearing support that is quickly and deftly established.  The short also features a wonderful cameo from Jeffrey Tambor deadpanning his way across the perceived gender barrier of breast cancer.

This is the most fun of the shorts and also ended wonderfully by presenting Lili's professional surgical suite as a sterilized nightmare.  There's no direct comfort at the end, but the promise of support after a scary glimpse of what's to come, and ends with all the strength of great ambiguity.

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Posted by Andrew

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