24 November 2009 | Cinema_Fan
A telling of fate and a courageous young woman, daughter, sister, lover and HIV AIDS activist.
This true-life story is based not only on the short life of Ms. Alison (Ali) Gertz (1966 - 1992) but also on the birth and its aftermath of ignorance concerning the then unknown disease AIDS. Contracting HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) while only sixteen years of age, it was not until her early twenties that the AIDS virus (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) took hold.
While concentrating, here, on the fears and the unknowing of this disease, we see Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986)), as an, in mind and spirit, healthy activist and forerunner of the dangers and possibilities of what may be lurking just around the corner, for anyone, from any class and social background.
Tom McLoughlin follows the slow deterioration of test after test, result after result with an atmosphere of dread, but in a positive light as possible and a determination to let the viewer down slowly, very slowly, as the final diagnoses is realised. By this time, as the end of act one is, too, realised, the light, at the end of the tunnel, is also slowly turned out; we are now entering a new phase in the life of an AIDS sufferer. Fatal Love was released some five months before Ms. Gertz's passing, and around the late 'eighties and early 'nineties her mother formed The Alison Gertz Foundation and "Concerned Parents for AIDS Research". Even in the early 'nineties this disease was slowly becoming less of a stigma, less of a taboo. Particularly with mainstream and Indie films themed on or around AIDS: Philadelphia (1993), And the Band Played On (1993), All About My Mother (1999) and 3 Needles etc, and with activists' such as Ms. Gertz, and films as Fatal Love, this is the result of the legacy that carries on after her.
Beautifully scripted and portrayed to the point beyond empathy, as seen with both parents Carol (Lee Grant) and Jerry Gertz (Martin Landau), and the agonising reality of a young candle blowing out so early. Lee Grant and Martin Landau's performance as these two souls in search of answers, in search of results and in search of help is highly commendable and the frustrations brought on by the sheer pressure of the mammoth task before them is one seen with pity, understanding and respect.
This production is of the highest quality and never does it feel dishonourable and judgmental in its approach to either victim or of those living beyond its consequence. Its narrative is delivered with such humble regards to such an extent that it raises the bar and highlights the fact that this disease is open to, once more, any social background. This friendly face of awareness here is also blameless on the side of the tracks where AIDS is most predictable and the "self inflicted lifestyles" of the drug addicts', homosexuals, for example, are too portrayed as human, as victim and as sufferers' of fate. It's almost a calming effect, with its light visual tones, its upper middle-class environment, but don't be fooled into thinking all is well behind the white-collar established elite. Its steady, but awakening narrative, is the friendly face of awareness that feels sanitised but also important and impossible to want to ignore.
It's Ms. Gertz's activities to, certainly not to preach, not to condemn, but to assist in the efforts' of a safe and healthy, prolonged, life. Told in flashback with the use of darkened and whitened fade-outs with a thumping heartbeat across the soundtrack and a emotionally stressed scenario that makes looking back at those times more of a retrospective of what may now seem like a Stone Age mentality that was the nineteen eighties. Tom McLoughlin's use of Molly Ringwald, essentially a child of the eighties herself as seen through the films of John Hughes (1950 - 2009); this was an exceptional and innovative move.
Molly Ringwald has finally grown-up and it is here we see her dependence of the love of her family and the, sadly inevitable, crumbling friendships, that come and go, building walls and breaking hearts. The "midnight bathroom scene" is immensely disturbing to witness as it is horrifying to try to understand her plight and anguish. Charles Bornstein's editing here and, again, Mr. McLoughlin's beautiful visual pacing and its light but heavy score brings home the reality harsher than one would appreciate. Then it is no small wonder too, that with this film comes an Edit Nomination Award for Best Edited Television Special for both Charles Bornstein and Sidney Wolinsky. These two editors have spliced a priceless work together, with the combined efforts of director, cast, writer et al. Considering its themes and contents here it has been done in a sensitive manner as it has in its delivery of themes of mistrust, paranoia, suicide and wisdom, death and hope.