Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle God Said "Ha!"

By Robert Faires

MAY 10, 1999: 

D: Julia Sweeney; with Sweeney. (PG-13, 85 min.)

"The feel-good cervical cancer movie of the year!" That's how I'd sum up this concert film in my "let's mock Joel Siegel" mode, but when all is said and done, the description isn't too far off the mark. Saturday Night Live alumna Sweeney (It's Pat!) provides a first-person account of the traumatic year during which she was battling cervical cancer even as her brother Mike was wrestling with brain cancer, and the humor and compassion with which she tells their story strokes our funny bone and stirs something warm inside. Sweeney's show was born as part of The Uncabaret, a weekly showcase of alternative comedy at a club in West Hollywood. Sweeney would take the stage every Sunday and serve up a monologue/rant/confession that was essentially a recap of the preceding week's medical developments, humiliations at the hands of hospital staffers, and off-center domestic dramas with her family, colored by Sweeney's delightfully wry comic take on the same. When the comedian's ongoing dispatches from her life proved enormously popular, she shaped them into a solo stage show that became a hit in San Francisco and propelled her to Broadway. The movie captures Sweeney's stage version on celluloid, and like many a film version of a theatrical production, it suffers somewhat in the translation. There's that curious sensation of you the filmgoer being separated from the performer, who is clearly doing the show for a live audience, and that awkward issue of what to do with the camera so the film won't look stagy but won't constantly call attention to itself. Sweeney the director doesn't help matters with some curious choices -- one or two long, leisurely dolly shots when Sweeney is right in the middle of an engrossing anecdote, camera angles which seem to work against the intimacy suggested by much of Sweeney's material -- but whenever she simply settles the camera on Sweeney the actor, we're disarmed by her self-deprecating wit and decency and open, unmistakable love for her family. The quality of the writing and the honesty and good humor with which it is presented takes what could be an exercise in bathos and transforms it into a heart-lifting journey through darkness to light. Julia Sweeney makes her cancer year a triumph of humor and humanness.
3.0 stars

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