By Brandon Kratkoczki
It’s often said that tragedy is the greatest source of comedy. This can be somewhat applied to Pushing Dead, though that’s not to say that this film laughs in the face of HIV/AIDS. The film depicts people who don’t know how to do anything but laugh; they have no other coping method to help them get through the incredibly difficult situation that they have been thrust into. It is a touching, thoughtful, and funny look into the day-to-day lives of a group of people who inhabit the American underdog’s bleeding heart and are facing a difficult situation placed upon the head of one of their own.
James Roday plays Dan, a gay, HIV-positive man. He receives a cash gift that he swiftly places in his bank account. Unfortunately, this money disqualifies him from his low-income status, and prevents his necessary, life-saving medication from being subsided by the government. He must find a way to survive the two weeks before he can reapply for his low-income status. On his side is his quirky, hipster friend (played by Rachel Weigert) and the grizzled owner of the bar he bounces at (played by the now Heartland regular Danny Glover). The performances are all around great. I never thought twice about the relationship these characters shared with each other being anything but full of history and love. Roday and Weigert, in particular, had a great, loving chemistry.
Of course, their acting is only bolstered by an excellent screenplay. It is full of introspection and heart with a light pepper of comedy. While I never found myself rolling out of the seat, I often let out a hefty blow of air from my nose, or recognized the cleverness of the dialogue. One of the few problems I had with the screenplay was when the characters occasionally transformed into mouthpieces for the writers. For example, there are two slam poetry sequences and they both feel awkwardly placed and fairly forced. Plus, there is a recurring joke involving a little girl who says weirdly dark, philosophical things that feel like they were pulled from another movie.
But I can’t bully this movie too much because it is just so damn amiable and likable. I usually try to go into a film with a critical, sharp eye that attempts to pick out every single flaw possible. This is a rare film that disarmed me. I enjoyed my time just living with these likable characters, resulting in myself relating to their day-to-day stories. Though I wasn’t as engrossed as I was in Trivia Night (which you should read Kyle Wooldridge’s excellent review for), I still was in it the whole time. This is especially impressive considering the film’s subject matter. The screenplay and performances make our lead’s plight with the main story and his HIV sad yet not overbearing. If I knew this man in real life, I would not define him as “my friend with AIDS.” This is important in the discussion of LGBTQ representation in film. While this is essentially a story about a gay man with AIDS who is not able to get his drugs, it allows him to be so much more than a logline.
Let me state briefly that I do not think that this film is any sort of masterpiece. There are still strange script changes here and there, and character choices that don’t make entire sense, like our main character’s friend’s spiritual bond with a stuffed monkey. But it didn’t need to be perfect. What Pushing Dead needed was to be a funny, insightful, and slightly heartbreaking story about a man and his troubles with his medication and life in general. That’s exactly what Pushing Dead is. Through his trials and tribulations, we root for our main character because we like him, and he’s given a great story to tell. In my opinion, that’s the most important thing at all.