LIFE SUPPORT: Queen Latifah is Raw and Real
By Prairie Miller
A more than big deal is made about the American Dream in this country and in its films. But it's always about fleeing the social and economic ordeals that the masses of people face here, and joining the chosen few who find their way to the top of the food chain.
So what in effect this country sorely lacks in its cinema, is a body of work, like that of UK filmmaker Ken Loach, depicting the way most people just get by, surviving sometimes in miraculous ways, day to day. That is, just the way most of the US movie audience lives, not the wealthy elite who make those movies.
Life Support, the Closing Night feature at Sundance this year and now available on DVD, is a very different way of seeing, and of focusing the camera's eye. Here is a truly authentic world of ordinary people ennobled and elevated to extraordinary circumstances by the dreaded issues and conflicts life has presented them. Brooklyn based director Nelson George has created a film as raw and real as documentary, but with an acutely organic sense of the drama and passion to be gleaned from a combination of fired up imagination and visceral human pain.
George crafted Life Support as a tribute to his own sister, Andrea Williams. A Brooklyn mother who self-destructed in succumbing to cocaine addiction, she then turned her life around only to find herself afflicted with AIDS, passed on to her by her own heroin addicted husband.
Queen Latifah plays Andrea in a portrayal much like Charlize Theron's Monster, where she strips away any self-consciousness of a star persona to depict a woman shorn of her humanity, but in this case determined to overcome. Latifah surprises in a remarkably new and different serious role as Andrea. She prevails against enormous odds here, projecting a female fortitude and resilience however ill fated, that few other actresses equal on screen.
Andrea reluctantly manages the often-frustrating daily grueling regimen of the disease, with the tough love backup support of her blue-collar husband, Slick (Wendell Pierce) when she veers towards crumbling under the stress. Andrea also juggles caring for her nine year old, and attempting to reconcile with an older teenage daughter long alienated from her crack-addicted mother who had neglected her in childhood.
At the same time, Andrea works as an utterly devoted activist at Life Support, a local AIDS awareness group for afflicted women attempting to cope. These scenes of shared conversation touching on collective wounds and laced with both sadness and humor that smoothes over hurt, are the luminous heart of the film.
Obsessed with her mission to alert the world about AIDS, Andrea is also a local fixture trudging through the neighborhood every day, bad legs and all, dragging a suitcase full of AIDS informational booklets and condoms. And dispensing them to whomever will give a listen.
Life Support is an extraordinary character-rich film that strives for the profound emotional truth of everyday existence. Though the incidental plot about the search around the neighborhood for a dying, AIDS-stricken teen is thinly conceived in comparison, Queen Latifah's commanding charisma more than makes up for it.
Life Support is now available on DVD from HBO Films. Bonus features include audio commentary and an on-set diary with writer/director Nelson George, an interview with the real Andrea Williams who was the inspiration for this movie, exclusive deleted scenes, and behind the scenes with Queen Latifah, Nelson George and Andrea Williams.
4 out of 4 stars
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