By Carter Glace
In a year when “Boyhood” is being championed as a powerful, grounded look into everyday life, it’s refreshing to see a film with actual, gripping human emotion. “Farewell to Hollywood” is a genuinely gut-wrenching film, watching someone’s final days and presenting a bleak, bittersweet, heartbreaking, and literally physically sickening picture.
Said final days are those of Reggie, a 17-year-old cinephile fighting a long and losing battle to cancer. At a film festival, she came across director Henry Corra and the two bonded instantly, resulting in Henry’s determination help Reggie on her quest to make a feature film by co-directing documentary of whatever life she had left (which, as you find in the opening minutes, isn’t much, as Henry is discussing whether or not to inform his parents of their daughter’s death). The ensuing hour and a half work follows her through the last few weeks of being seventeen, leaving her parents, moving to California, more chemo than any human being should endure, and all of the small steps in between.
Word of warning: this film is not for the faint of heart. This is by far one of the most intense looks into the life of a cancer victim you will every see. Both the bitter and the sweet are portrayed in unflinching detail. Needle after needle is shown, there are stomach churning moments of this poor girl writhing in pain and, finally, her lifeless body being discovered for the first time. But the film goes well beyond just the physical, segueing into the emotional. We are put very much media-en-res, with everyone close to Reggie more or less adjusted to the situation, and Henry/Reggie choose not to turn off the camera for some bleak family issues. One of the film’s most disturbing moments is a shouting match between Reggie’s parents as she painfully coughs from chemicals. The mental abuse that ensues from her mother is nothing short of disturbing, an unfortunate reminder that some people do not take trauma well. The choice to leave the camera on during these nightmarish moments is painful, but serves their ultimately tragic purpose of making a raw, powerful film.
And those moments of utter despair only impact because of the levity that Reggie found in life. The film seems to have an unhappy ending, but in reality, is an episodic look at a young woman fighting to take back a life that cancer won’t let her have. And for what little there was, when she finally frees herself of her toxic home situation, she is free, she is happy, she lives. The moments of her smiling in the car, playing on a swing adjacent to a cliff, and working on set as an extra remind us that despite the heartbreak, she didn’t let cancer win. And for what it’s worth, she did get to co-direct her feature film.
While accepting the Jimmy V Award, Stuart Scott said, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” Reggie’s story is with no doubt the tale of someone beating cancer. “Farewell to Hollywood” is a beautifully shot and paced look at someone living, even as they die.
Carter Glace is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.