‘It’s my turn to be miserable, not yours!’ – Pushing Dead (BFI Flare Review)

Rating:

It seems strange to describe a film about a struggling writer, who has been HIV+ positive for over 2 years and is battling to retain the healthcare that has kept him alive, as being delightful. But that’s the best adjective to describe Pushing Dead – it’s that or surprisingly funny, endearing, optimistic, or occasionally quirky.

When Dan (Roday) receives a cheque for $100 from his mother for his birthday he doesn’t pay it much thought. He lives his life pay cheque to pay cheque after all, he could really use the money as working the door at a San Francisco dive bar along with hosting barely-attended poetry slam nights doesn’t real bring in all the much money. However, the cheque from his mother tips his bank account into a different threshold with his health insurance which leads them to suspending the healthcare and medication that he vitally needs. Either he finds a way of paying $3000 a month, or a way of negotiating the byzantine bureaucracy of modern day health care.

This film isn’t an ‘I, Daniel Blake‘ (2016), David versus Goliath, story of one man taking on a corrupt healthcare system. Dan doesn’t spend the film fighting the system or devote his waking moments to defeating it – instead he tries to the negotiate this new obstacle whilst going about his everyday life. Dan stays gently hopeful throughout, innately certain that somehow things will work out.  This isn’t all that surprising, he’s spent over two decades being a handful of pills away from death. Roday’s excellent performance allows this to be believable. Perhaps recognisable to some TV fans as the lead in detective comedy-drama Psych (2006-2014), he utilizes the same blend of likeable self-deprecation to bring Dan to life. Dan isn’t quite the oddball extrovert that Shawn Spencer (his pseudo-psychic character in Psych) was, instead he’s a man stuck in rut who now finds life getting even more nerve-shredding. Roday is charming in the role, completely believable as a man who tries to live his life fully and appreciate the few riches he has whilst many others would understandably become rather jaded.

It helps that he has an excellent supporting cast who feel as if they are real people. His best friend and eternally single flatmate Paula (Weigart) has some of the film’s sweetest moments, be that when alongside Roday or the soft toy monkey he acquires for her. Danny Glover, as the owner of the bar Dan works at, is a great addition and provides a lot of warmth in unexpected ways. His performance may not be all that stretching, he’s been saying ‘He’s too old for this shit’ for 37 years now, but he brings a lot to proceedings. Tom Riley as Mike, the man Dan crosses paths with so often it must be fated, brings an understated performance whose natural rapport with Roday provides much of the film’s heart.

Pushing Dead doesn’t always play out as expected. Don’t be put off by thinking it’s a ‘typical’ indie, there’s more than enough oddball narrative digressions to make it a bit different from usual fare. The cutaways, creepy young girl, and occasionally surreal moments allow the film to be all the more memorable and entertaining.  A character over plot piece, Pushing Dead is warm, entertaining and, surprisingly, rather delightful.

Credits:

  • Dir: Tom E. Brown
  • Scr: Tom E. Brown
  • Cast: James Roday, Robin Weigert, Danny Glover, Tom Riley, Khandi Alexander, Derrick O’Connor. 
  • Prd: Eyde Belasco, Jim Bloom, Richard LaGravenese, Chris Martin.
  • DOP: Frazer Bradshaw
  • Music: Mark De Gli Antoni
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2016
  • Run time: 110 minutes