James Roday, Danny Glover, Tom Riley, Robin Wiegart
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“…understated on the issues and heavy on the laughs.”
Illness is always the toughest subject to broach in film, especially if that film is a comedy and that illness is something as extreme as HIV. But every so often you capture lightning in a bottle: a brilliant first time writer-director (Tom E. Brown) will team up with an actor well-known for his deadpan comedic timing (James Roday), and, with an eccentric cast and a fresh take on a tough subject, things will just click, creating one of the funniest comedies made in a long time.
Dan Schauble (Roday) is a struggling writer in the San Francisco mission district who, after his mother sends him a $100 birthday check, no longer qualifies for full health care. That’s a bit of a problem, seeing as he’s HIV positive. With his medication running out and his career going nowhere fast, Dan must find a way to get his medication as he balances crazy friends, a new romance and the overwhelming weight of his disease.
Cracking jokes like a big screen blockbuster, Pushing Dead earns each and every one of its laughs. Brown’s wonderful slice of life script is full of wit and sarcasm as Dan trudges sardonically through every day. Occasionally bordering on the absurd, Dan’s story is very much in the real world: humour is always tangled up with sadness, love is complex and absurdly funny, and it’s the little things that end up making life so much better in the end.
Not that Dan’s story isn’t tragic: his history with HIV is more complex than you’d expect, and after suffering more sadness than one should have to endure, it’s no wonder he keeps to himself. But his sarcastic, dead pan way of coping and connecting is electric and infectious, effortlessly played by Roday (Psych); his scenes with Danny Glover’s Bob are highlights, a clash of grumpiness and self-deprecation.
But the film’s biggest, yet most subtle, achievement is its normalisation of HIV. Even though the film revolves around Dan’s illness, he succeeds at treating it as an inconvenience, rather than letting it take over his life, and the film’s frank treatment of the disease opens a gateway to the audience for a different perspective of real life with HIV. Pushing Dead is understated on the issues and heavy on the laughs, a perfect combination that makes this brilliantly normal film something that will keep you laughing and thinking for days after.