At The Movies 01.22.10
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening today at the Majestic Theater in Greenville :
            “Extraordinary Measures” is one of those heartwarming family dramas that is a cut above a television special, but likely won’t enjoy a huge following, because, well, it’s not a lot of fun.
            It’s based on a true story, about a couple named John and Aileen Crowley, who had one “normal” child, and then two with the same rare genetic disorder (called “Pompe,” which causes swelling of the internal organs) that is always fatal, and usually results in a life expectancy less than nine years old.
            Brendan Fraser plays the Dad, who’s an intelligent, educated man with a successful career who, understandably, finds it difficult to just sit and watch two of his children slowly dying.  He reads about a certain researcher at The University of Nebraska, Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford).  His research is promising, but he lacks sufficient funding.  In the film, he’s depicted as an offbeat curmudgeon who doesn’t want anything to do with anybody, flies off the handle easily, doesn’t have much social skill, and is arrogant about his premier place in his field.  But the genial Crowley and the irascible professor form an unlikely partnership to get legs on the research, so a medicinal cure would actually be available to the public.
            What follows feels like a too-real-to-be-fiction kind of grinding through the process of researching a pharmaceutical, setting up a lab, training employees, securing funding, recruiting investors, and somehow managing all the prima donna personalities involved, to reach a common goal.  We also watch the Crowleys try to balance their fundraising efforts with trying to have some kind of normal family life.  In the end, they hope to help their own children, yes, but they also become interested in the other parents around the country in the same boat as they are:  struggling with a heartbreaking disease for which there’s no known cure.
            This film is neither fish nor fowl.  It’s not exactly a documentary.  The actual science involved is way too complicated to explain to laypeople like us, but they try to blizzard us with some biotechnical jargon and hope it feels right.  It’s not really a love story.  There’s no action adventure involved, and Harrison Ford is not going to jump into his Han Solo or Indiana Jones or Jack Ryan or Richard Kimble personas (he’s had some great roles, but this isn’t one of them).  Keri Russell, as Aileen Crowley, plays mostly distraught and concerned, and an overweight Fraser appears more oafish and less charming than in other roles, as well.
            Yes, of course, we’re rooting for the medicine to help these poor people, but this is no escapist fantasy at the movies.  More like a grim grind to a foregone conclusion.  How many will want to pay to do that?
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93.5-KICK-FM