“Decoding Annie Parker” (2014)
“Decoding Annie Parker” is a movie based on the true story of Annie Parker (Samantha Morton), a woman who has battled cancer and the researcher, Dr. Mary–Claire King (Helen Hunt) who figured out the link between genetics and cancer. The film opens up with a quote from the real Annie Parker; “My life is a comedy. I just had to learn how to laugh.” Annie came from a family that had been struck time after time by cancer. She lost her mother to breast cancer when she was still a kid. Later, she loses both her sister and her father to cancer. Annie deals with cancer in two ways, through humor and a dogged obsessiveness to learn everything that she can about the dreaded disease and its possible causes.
In the early 70’s, Annie marries Paul (Aaron Paul), a young pool cleaner who has aspirations to be a rock star. He is loving and supportive of Annie, who soon after getting married gets pregnant. Annie, already reeling from the death of her sister, becomes convinced that she is next. Her worst fears are realized when she is diagnosed with breast cancer and most undergo an aggressive treatment that includes a mastectomy. After recovering, Annie makes it her mission to learn as much as she can about the disease and to understand why she got cancer.
At the same time that Annie is going through her fight with cancer, Dr. King, a brilliant researcher at UC Berkeley is starting to look at the family histories of cancer patients. Her idea is that heredity just might be a determining factor in some cancer patients. If she and her team can find the DNA markers that are passed from generation to generation, making some people more susceptible to cancer, it might someday lead to a cure. Tediously collecting family histories is a slow process and Dr. King is hampered by the slow speed her researchers can collect the data and the computers of the day.
This is a moving but, funny film. Annie is a fighter and one of the ways that she deals with all the suffering that she goes through is with humor. Samantha Morton gives an amazing performance as the determined, feisty Annie. She allows us to see Annie as more than just a victim but as a woman who is willing to fight for her life and has a thirst for knowledge about the disease that is trying to kill her. Morton also makes Annie a likeable character that makes us root for not only her survival, but also in her quest to make sense of why cancer is killing so many of her family
Helen Hunt is given the task of making the fact driven Dr. King a well-rounded character and this is where the film fails a bit. We go back and forth between Annie’s cancer battle and Dr. King’s work to find that genetic link. The problem is we only see Dr. King in the lab setting, mostly talking about facts and figures, making that part of the story seem slow and drab, compared to Annie and her great personality. We only see Dr. King interact with her staff and a put upon administrator played by Richard Schiff. Hunt isn’t given much to work with on screen; unfortunately, Dr. King comes off as a one dimensional character.
The supporting cast is strong, including Aaron Paul playing the loving but somewhat dim husband. As Annie’s husband ages, he becomes less supportive and more into his own needs. Under a lesser actor, that character would become the villain of the story, but Paul makes us understand that sometimes the battle is just too much for some people to handle. Rashida Jones and Corey Stoll, are delightful, playing a nurse and a young doctor, that become part of Annie’s support team and help her understand all the cancer research she collects. The film also includes notable performances from Maggie Grace, as Annie’s older sister Sarah, and Alice Eve, who plays Annie’s best friend Louise.
The film, written by Adam Bernstein, Michael Moss, and Steven Bernstein (who also directed the film) gives us a unique viewpoint on one’s woman’s fight with cancer. It’s not often that you are able to laugh during a scene where someone is told that they have cancer. It’s because Annie Parker is such a force of nature as portrayed by Samantha Morton, we root for her instead of pitying her. “Decoding Annie Parker” is a film about faith. Faith in the fact that if you believe you can beat something you just might. As Annie says near the end of the film; “Maybe it doesn’t matter what we have faith in, as long as it’s something…like the future.” My Rating: Full Price
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“Decoding Annie Parker” is playing exclusively at AMC Barrett Commons 24