October 19, 2003

The Event

Starring Parker Posey, Olympia Dukakis, Don McKellar and Sarah Polley

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Thom Fitzgerald is responsible for some of the most original films in recent memory, such as the surreal The Hanging Garden and the kitsch Beefcake. So it’s somewhat of a surprise that Fitzgerald’s latest, The Event, turns out to be riddled with clichés and one-dimensional stock characters. A drama that revolves around the assisted suicide of a gay man dying of AIDS, the film does have its moments. But for the most part, it is almost indistinguishable from the recent parade of films that deal with terminal illnesses.

Parker Posey plays a dour New York district attorney investigating the death of a musician named Matt Shapiro (Don McKellar). She suspects that Shapiro’s death, like several similar ones in Chelsea, is a case of assisted suicide. Each of Matt’s loved ones is called into an interrogation room. In The Sweet Hereafter fashion, they recall the events leading up to Matt’s death in flashbacks during their depositions. Apparently some had struggled, and some continue to struggle, with the decision to allow Matt to commit suicide.

Many gay-themed films have already explored the AIDS crisis, from independent features like Longtime Companion and It’s My Party to mainstream fare such as Philadelphia and The Hours. Most of these don’t really provide any new insight into the tragic illness. Instead, they all focus on the unendurable physical and emotional agony suffered by those with AIDS. The Event is no exception. Although the film does give the tired theme an assisted-suicide spin, assisted suicide itself is emerging as a new cliché thanks to this film and The Barbarian Invasions.

Aside from Posey’s heartless attorney, the film is jam-packed with other convenient stereotypes that exist solely to help the film make its point. A conflicted mother, two disagreeing sisters, an ignorant uncle, plus a hysterical drag queen seem to be mere plot devices rather than actual people. The capable cast, which includes Olympia Dukakis as Matt’s mother and Sarah Polley as Matt’s sister, are memorable in certain scenes. But overall, none of performances is fully realized.

Fitzgerald curiously set the film against the backdrop of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, even going as far as showing the World Trade Centre’s twin towers disappearing from the New York City skyline. But like everything else in this film, this element is a half-baked idea that fails to have any real impact. Single-minded and preachy in its pro-assisted suicide agenda, The Event ultimately comes off as a ham-handed made-for-cable movie that won’t really spark any conversation or debate on its subject.

© 2003 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.