25 May 2006 | gradyharp
Cynthia Nixon and Michael Angarano Shine in this Tender Story
The concept for this little Indie film - the dying wish of a teenager opening spiritual doors - is far from original, but Barry Stringfellow's strong script as directed by Alex Steyermark (whose only other directorial venture was 'Prey for Rock and Roll', though he has been on the crew of some very fine films like 'Pieces of April' etc) results in a far from ordinary drama. For those who have not seen Cynthia Nixon expand beyond her 'Sex and the City' role, this performance will be enlightening! Dylan (Michael Angarano) is a young teenager diagnosed with terminal cancer, a fact that he shares with his loony buddies (Gideon Glick and Matt Bush) who support him with silly but genuine companionship. Dylan's mother Carol (Cynthia) is still reeling from her husband's death (Ethan Hawke) and facing the loss of the one remaining part of her family is devastating but her strength of character keeps a positive support for Dylan. When Dylan is informed by his doctor (Brian Stokes Mitchell) that further radiation and chemotherapy are useless, Dylan places his desire for living on one last thing...he is on a TV show where dying wishes are granted, and rather than the asking for expected fishing trip with football hero Jason (Johnny Messner), he opts for a weekend alone with supermodel Nikki Sinclair (Sunny Mabrey). Nikki, we discover, has problems and demons of her own and her agent Arlene (Gina Gershon), in trying to rescue her faltering career, advises the reluctant Nikki to visit Dylan in his home in Pennsylvania - for positive PR purposes. Once they meet Dylan is determined to have his one last thing, gains money and a room (a gift form Jason) in New York and travels with his sidekicks to the Big Apple to cash in on his prize. The Nikki he finds is the wasted girl down at heels and though she feels tenderness toward Dylan she tells him to just go home. Dylan's disease progresses to the point of final hospitalization when Nikki re-enters the sad room and changes things.
The power that changes this predictable story lies in the extraordinarily sensitive performances of Michael Angarano, who plays Dylan with a twinkle in his eye and allows us to feel his burden with resorting to bathos, and the always-impressive Cynthia Nixon whose performance as Dylan's mother is the most understated and heart wrenching on film. She owns the screen whenever she is on. The supporting cast is strong (though Gideon Glick and Matt Bush are allowed to become obnoxious and would have benefited from some stronger direction). In all, this is a striking, simple, compelling film that rises well above its premise to become an important statement about death and dying and the power of hope and love and family. Grady Harp