A great music video, foiled

The Event gets off to a "spirited" start as a body gets carted off in front of an unusual crowd to the classic song "Spirit in the Sky". It's a great moment, a great way to start a film, this uneasy juxtaposition of elements. But when the song ends, the bottom drops out, and we have to slog through close to enough self-confessed significance to consider assisted suicide.

And that's just what the film is about - Matthew Shapiro has been on the downhill side of his battle with AIDS for some time, and has decided to end it all because the fight to live is no longer worth the pain and misery. He plans out an "event" to end his life in style, inviting all his closest family and friends for a kind of party.

It's the end of this party that starts the film, as well as ends it. The party frames a clever double storyline of the events leading up to it, and the investigation that follows. We bounce back and forth in time like it was going out of style.

An investigator (Parker Posey) tries to find the responsible party for assisting the suicide, as that is actually a crime on the books. She is unnaturally determined in this task, for some reason that is only somewhat explained at the end. What explanation there is doesn't work for me, though, as it simultaneously provides the key to the one change we see in her character. Which trigger is it, really?

On the other side, we see Matt's family deal with, first his homosexuality, then his AIDS and deteriorating health. Just about every perspective is shown, like running down a checklist of possible reactions. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but these scenes play out so on-the-nose that we feel we've known the whole scene from hearing just the first line or two.

I like the idea of The Event. Much of the acting is fantastic, especially Olympia Dukakis as Matt's mother - though we can feel when the script isn't providing enough material to work with. The structure would work fantastically if only all the bouncing around were justified. I feel like many of our jaunts, particularly into the earlier storyline, are all about facts already in evidence, and don't provide anything new.

The film walks a fine line at times between presenting different points of view and passing judgment on them. Other times, it crosses the line as if it weren't there. Often, the film works harder at presenting its own point of view rather than its characters, and that's probably its biggest flaw.

Things improve toward the end, and if you've started watching, you might as well finish for the nuggets of near greatness you'll find scattered around (like the bit about Vagimar - "it melts away your itch like margarine"). Overall, though, the film misses more often than it hits, but there was some real potential here.

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