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"Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life"

Directed by Logan Smalley.
Release Year:  ???
Review Date:  4/29/07

Folks--

Let's make this simple--"Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life" is the best film I have seen this year, and unless something truly stunning happens between now and the end of the year, this one's got the top spot all locked up.

The second film our foursome watched at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, "Darius Goes West" is just one of those movies that, from the jump, gets you and never lets go...especially in the context of a film that literally made three of the four of us cry for nearly the entire 90-minute running time.  (Yes, I would include myself in that threesome.)  Darius Weems is a 15-year-old kid who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a form of Muscular Dystrophy so rare that only one in 3,500 people gets it, and it is 100% fatal; when the movie opens, we learn from Darius himself that his brother died of this disease when he was only 19 years old, and now, Darius has taken it upon himself--along with about a dozen of what can only be described as just the greatest friends you could ever dream of--to help educate people about the disease and how to help fight it, with this film being one of the principal forms of that outreach.  So, from his hometown of Athens, Georgia (where the wheelchair-bound Darius has been his whole life), Darius and his friends rent an RV and take off for a three-week road trip around the country, the middle of which is meant to culminate in an appearance on MTV's "Pimp My Ride" and a chance for the MTV crew to outfit Darius's wheelchair with a wide array of accessories, all the while further pushing the agenda of fundraising for both the work on research into DMD and funding for the film.

Before I forget, you absolutely MUST visit the film's website, www.dariusgoeswest.com; there's plenty of information there about DMD, the movie, some of the awards it has already won, and a clip from the crew's appearance on "Nightline" recently.

The movie, written, cut and directed by Logan Smalley (who isn't really even a filmmaker by his own admission; he's a freakin' special ed student who is doing this in his "spare time"), is a documentary in the sense that it is a non-fiction look at the disease and the man who carries the burden of this disease in a way that is shockingly positive and uplifting given the circumstances...hell, according to any account presented in the movie or in the light research I've done tonight, almost no one lives past 25 who has DMD and that Darius knows/understands this and isn't breaking down into tears every day is an incredible story unto itself.  Smalley does little to enhance or oversell the situation, maybe the movie's strongest point--he just follows Darius and other members of the camp/programs that Darius was in while in Athens through the three-week road trip and matter-of-factly goes about detailing what Darius likes, how he loves to laugh, how the crew got along being around such a happy guy, on and on and on.  Smalley even provided the freakin' soundtrack for the movie, in between whittling over 300 hours of footage down to a 90-minute film, as well as cutting rap songs that Darius did for the movie and slapping those in the film, too.  (The Darius songs, not surprisingly, are well done and better than about 75% of the lyrics for "real" hip-hop songs in the market today.  This was glaring to me as someone who regularly rails against how awful hip-hop has gotten in the last five years.)

The film is emotional throughout.  After a while, I just got tired of fighting off the tears and just let it flow; the film's power comes mostly through seeing a kid that, in essence, is already dead but is living his life to the fullest and having such a positive influence on the friends and family around him.  And, that laugh!  When the crew takes Darius to Florida, and he sees the ocean for the first time, all Logan shows is a shot of Darius looking out at the water; you are reading me write how powerful this is, but I'm telling you, when you see someone looking out at the water for the first time (and, quite likely, the LAST time, too), you can't help but be touched by what is happening here.  Because Darius really only has the ability to fully control his head and occasionally his hands (even then, he usually needs help with things as simple as holding a phone), the crew takes Darius into the water and they have to be there to help him float/swim, but when he is sitting there in the ocean and laughing, really laughing, man, the tears of joy are special.

The biggest shame, personally?  Only about 30 people were in our audience to watch the film.  Lacking any stars, "Darius Goes West" was swallowed up by many other films at Tribeca with bigger names; another problem with our showing was that it was in the morning, which in New York City is always a strange problem since no one does anything in New York before noon.  But, Smalley being Smalley--just about the most humble guy in the world--he still talked to the 30 people in the audience after the screening like he was speaking to 300 people.  He answered every question with "Thanks for asking that" or "Did I answer that the way I should have?" before launching into how excited he was just to be a part of the film; his aw-shucks Southern accent, his age (he can't be older than maybe 23 or 24) and his good looks will guarantee that the film is huge if he can find a distributor, which so far, he has not done.  The film's website is helping to raise money; the film's producers are taking the (very wise) step of having audience members flood Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions with postcards detailing Darius, DMD, the film and the message...postcards that Smalley himself is handing out after every single screening of the film.

Man, I'm rooting for this movie to make waves, not only to bring attention to DMD research (obviously) but just because the film is so powerful; this movie has replaced "Glory" as the single most ManTear-est movie I have ever watched.  (Note that this is saying something; every man who watches "Glory" loses it, and in "Darius Goes West", I have found a film that not only has a teary-eyed ending, but a teary-eyed intro, a teary-eyed story, a teary-eyed soundtrack and a teary-eyed real-life condition, too.)  SEE THIS MOVIE!!!

Rating:  Opening Weekend

(By the way, I ordered a DGW t-shirt four days ago, and today, Logan's mom sent me my t-shirt, a note saying thanks, and a second t-shirt to say thanks for donating to the cause.  How can you not freakin' love these people???)

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09