"Darius Goes West: The Roll of His
Directed by Logan Smalley.
Release Year: ???
Review Date: 4/29/07
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
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
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
"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
"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