Dying Young Reviews
This is one of a handful of movies that I remember my sister seeing on a date with her first boyfriend, many years ago. They had read somewhere that you should never go on a date to see a movie where the actors are more attractive than your date, and from what I can tell, they ignored the advice. I mean, their first date was to a Val Kilmer movie, and I know they saw [i]Legends of the Fall[/i], which my sister refers to so far as I know to this day as "the movie with all the cute people in it." While Graham and I had a discussion the other day about how attractive Julia Roberts is (in relation to Matt Damon's staring at her in [i]Ocean's Eleven[/i]), it's certainly true that she was at the height of her beauty around the time this movie was made. While my sister is hardly unattractive, she also couldn't compete with early '90s-era Julia Roberts. I guess the advice isn't perfect.
Here, Roberts is Hilary O'Neil. One day, she comes home to discover that her boyfriend is two-timing her, so she walks out. She goes looking for a new job, and what she finds is Victor Geddes (Campbell Scott). He has cancer, and he's looking for someone to take care of him as he goes through chemotherapy. I'm a little unclear on why she applies for the job; his father (David Selby) doesn't want to hire her, because, you know, she's not a nurse. (Though she was a candystriper once!) However, the elder Geddes is some kind of wealthy businessman, and he's going out of town. Victor hires Hilary anyway, because what he wants is someone he can get along with. And by "get along with," we of course eventually get to "fall in love with." He tells Hilary that his course of chemo is done and he wants to get away, so they drive up to Mendocino, where they rent a house. However, what Victor isn't telling her is that he actually didn't finish his course of chemo, and he's getting sick again.
While I think Vincent D'Onofrio is a talented actor and does a fine job as Gordon, but I'm not sure what Gordon had to do with anything. Mostly, he serves to make me wonder what, exactly, Victor and Hilary had to build a relationship on. I don't think couples have to have everything in common, but I do think it helps if they have anything in common. When the three are watching [i]Jeopardy![/i] together, Hilary and Gordon get all the same ones right, and Victor treats them as if they are weirdos because they know all the television ones while he knows all the others. He gives Hilary art history lessons because he thinks they interest her, and it turns out that they don't. She is interested in health food, and when she starts working for Victor, the only thing she's able to make him is eggs, because there's nothing else in his kitchen but Twinkies and porn. (If you live alone, why would you hide your porn?) We never see anything they have in common other than sex, and I don't think that's enough to draw people into an emotional commitment.
Conversely, I would have liked to spend more time with the character of Estelle Whittier (Colleen Dewhurst in one of her last roles). I thought for a moment that Estelle was supposed to know the Geddes family, know who Victor was, and so forth. However, it seems she didn't, and so I'm going to interpret that look she gives him when they first meet as knowing more about his life than he thinks anyone does--possibly more than he knows himself. She has buried three husbands (in a maze on her property!), and she knows more about pain than most. She is uniquely placed to counsel both Hilary and Victor, and she isn't really given a chance to help either of them. She might change the course of the story, and we don't want that. There is a specific course planned, whether it makes sense or not, and even though a character seems custom-designed to change that course, she just ends up completely irrelevant to the plot.
It's not that I don't think Victor has the right to decide whether he actually wants treatment or not. I believe it is stated at some point that he's been living with his cancer for ten years at the start of the movie, and that's a long time to be in pain. However, his prognosis is still good (especially if he permanently quits smoking), and he certainly doesn't have any right to hire someone to watch him die, especially without letting her in on the fact that it's what he's doing. Especially because he doesn't want a nurse, someone who is prepared and trained for the job. After all, if he really wanted a nurse, the ad would have been for one. Someone who was a candystriper once wouldn't even bother applying, because the ad would make quite clear that she wouldn't get the job. Everyone has a right to make their own decision about death, but you don't have the right to determine how other people are going to deal with your death. Being rich doesn't make that any more true.
Still a touching film at part. Julia Roberts made this film.