*Due to a technical issue, the original post of this review disappeared. This is a reprint.
What kind of a person writes a comedy about AIDS? The answer…a very talented and insightful one! In a recent interview with writer/director Tom E. Brown, who has been dealing with being positive for close to 32 years now, he shared that the “Pushing Dead” “…was inspired by some stuff I was dealing with but definitely not autobiographical. There are,” he continued, “a lot of my HIV experiences…and my HIV survival guide” included in the film.
In “Pushing Dead” we learn that Danny, who has AIDS and struggles to make ends meet, cashes a $100 birthday check from dear old Mom. When he goes to pick up his medications, totalling thousands of dollars, he learns that he has been declined. Why? The birthday check put him 70 bucks over the limit for his very meager bank account warranting declined health coverage. The subsequent days find Danny dealing with the fallout while he also goes about his normal, everyday life. His life is anything but regular as we meet his roommate who’s looking for love (in all the wrong places), best buddy whose wife left him, and a potential love interest. Maybe he is just a regular guy after all…he just sees life on the bright and humorous side even when most of us wouldn’t.
James Roday bravely takes on this complicated lead role as “Danny,” but Brown never doubted this actor’s skills. He knew immediately that James was perfect. Roday brilliantly combines an honest charm and a sense of genuineness that the viewer immediately connects with. As he is turned away from the pharmacy counter time after time, we feel his every thought and emotion—even when he has the chance to bolt out of there without paying. (No worries…remember, I used the word “honest” earlier to describe him.) His comedic timing combined with the blunt punch of reality create someone we truly care about, all the while hammering home the harsh and seemingly robotic decisions of a healthcare system.
Danny Glover plays “Bob,” a poetry slam barkeeper who is having some marital issues. “Bob” and “Danny” have a natural chemistry mimicking a father and son who love each other but drive one another nuts. When I asked Brown about their interactions, he concurred that although the two had only met once before on a set, they seemed to know each other well. In fact, one scene was completely improvised as we watch and hear the two discuss how “Bob” should apologize to his wife. This is an absolutely touching yet hilarious scene that will most definitely ring true to many of us.
The film, taking nearly 16 years to complete, began in 1999. With the help of the Sundance Institute, “Pushing Dead” came to life. Brown nearly threw in the towel on several occasions, but doors continually opened, encouraging him to ford ahead. After the Sundance Writing Lab, came the Director’s Lab during which time he would meet his producer Richard LaGravenese who he praised for his “…sensibility as a writer, mixing deep stuff with humor.” This is just the brand Brown has for “Pushing Dead.”
A great script that not only entertains but one that you can relate to is wonderful, but the cast has to be just as talented as the writer. “Pushing Dead” finds Robin Weigert to play “Paula,” “Danny’s” roommate. Her love life is lacking, but her tenacity creates wonderfully funny situations in the dating (and defending) world. Speaking of defending, LaGravenese has a cameo as the mugger in the film. Be sure to watch for this rather comedic beating.
“Pushing Dead” is an unusual film in that we can laugh at a dire situation yet still have heart, relate to all the characters on one level or another, and take a closer look at the human side of healthcare. It’s a brilliantly relevant and funny look at life.
“Pushing Dead” will be playing at the Chicago International Film Festival on October 18, 22, and 23. Tom E. Brown will be at the second and third screenings to answer all your questions and share his experience in making this film. For more information, go to