Directed by Tom E. Brown
Bugsby Pictures/Chrismatic Film
Reviewed by T.J. Banks
Danny Schauble (James Roday of Psych) is a writer who’s frequently at a loss for words—at least when it comes to putting them down on paper. In one-on-one conversation, he’s funny, quirky, and insightful. He lives with Paula (Robin Weigert), a massage therapist; holds poorly-attended poetry slams at the bar where he works as a bouncer; and drinks coffee from a mug bearing the words “Wanted dead or alive” and a face suspiciously like his own. His dead lover, Kevin, now shows up in his dreams with “an Uzi lobster claw” where one of his hands used to be.
Danny, the antihero of Tom E. Brown’s award-winning film Pushing Dead, has also been living with HIV for twenty-two years. Thanks to a birthday check from his mom, he now has too much money in his bank account, a technicality that essentially locks him out of his healthcare plan. He deals with this as he deals with most things—with help from a few tried-and-true friends, coffee, and constant caustic banter. At one point, he’s sorting out pills in the bar with the owner, his friend Bob (Danny Glover): Bob’s are “old man stuff,” whereas Danny’s are his HIV meds, of course. “I win,” Bob deadpans. “Eight bottles—you, seven.”
Danny picks up the bottle. “This is a multivitamin,” he says with mock solemnity. “Multivitamins don’t count. Therefore, it is a tie.”
And there you have it: an entire scene about two men making cracks about the meds they need to make it through the day. It’s sad and funny all at once.
There are a lot of moments like that in Pushing Dead plus some random quirky bits. A strange unsettling little girl who appears to Danny and others, spouting stale adages. A traveling nightmare about a “creepy faux puppet” with a bleeding face. And Snowball, a white toy monkey that Paula talks to.
This is a film about AIDS, and yet it’s not a film about AIDS. Brown, who was diagnosed back in 1985, has said that he “didn’t set out to make an AIDS movie or a dark comedy. I set out to make a movie about coping.” Danny is coping the best he can. Watching him, you find yourself laughing. Or wincing. Or both. It’s that real, even with all the quirky bits.
T.J. Banks is the author of Sketch People, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Houdini, and other books. Catsong was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.