Monday, February 23, 2015

FAREWELL TO HOLLYWOOD: Henry Corra & Regina Nicholson's doc about dying and films

Diagnosed with a fatal disease at age 16, a freckle-faced, snaggle-toothed young girl with close-cropped hair named Regina "Reggie" Nicholson who dearly loves movies decides that she wants to make one before she dies. So filmmaker Henry Corra agrees to help her, and the result is the new documentary, FAREWELL TO HOLLYWOOD. There is no way that a subject like this one is not going to make the viewer emotional. The film would have to border on horrible not to wring some emotion out of you. Fortunately, the film that Mr. Corra and Ms Nicholson (the pair is pictured below) have made is a pretty good one, so the emotion we feel here is earned.

It is what we've learned, however -- about family, end-of-life demands and untimely dying -- the makes Farewell to Hollywood the keeper that it is. It is difficult to imagine what it must be like to lose a daughter at this terribly young age. Even so, the behavior of Reggie's mom (and somewhat that of her dad, too) is startlingly ghastly. Normally, I would think that parents would want to keep and cherish a final testament from their dying daughter. In this cast, probably not.

As Mr. Corra and Ms Nicholson grow more and more attached, the two parents grow angrier and crazier. The question of an unseemly closeness between filmmaker and subject is broached, but appears to be laid to rest -- at least until Reggie turns 18 and moves out and into her own small space atop a hill overlooking L.A., to be cared for by the filmmaker and a team of aides.

In the course of the film, we get the girl's history (which seems relatively normal, given what happens to the family later on). Mom alternates between helpful and nutty, while Regina sometimes seems like a typical rebellious teen. And yet we do see the girl grow in degrees. Eventually we realize how her condition has forced upon her a kind of maturity that she would not otherwise possess.

Along the way, to give us the sense of Reggie's movie love, are intercut scenes from various famous films -- from Pulp Fiction and The Dark Knight to Silence of the Lambs, The Graduate and Apocalypse Now. (Clearly, this girl was not into light romantic comedy.) Soon Mr Corra is becoming ever more a part of his own movie -- for good reason: the filmmaker as activist, helper and friend.

The movie itself? Alternately shocking, amusing and sometimes quite painful to watch, this is film as history, weapon, therapy, love story and advocacy. But is it art? I don't think so, for it is not, finally, that well done. It runs around all over the place, as though Mr Corra, having had to split his time between helper and filmmaker, opted for the former. As perhaps he should have. Yet considering what his movie gives us -- all of the above -- it doesn't have to be art. It ends up memorable enough, while Regina, by the by, has made her movie, and in the process given herself -- with Corra's help and as long as digital DVDs last -- a tiny bit of immortality.

Farewell to Hollywood opens this Wednesday, February 25 (the date of Reggie Nicholson's birthday), in New York City at the Cinema Village and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 (for one night only). It will then open at Laemmle's Noho 7 on March 13 and at the Playhouse 7 on March 14. A limited national release is expected to follow. 

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