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Boo Cancer, You Suck!

Boo Cancer, You Suck!

Many films about cancer focus on the first stages of the disease and processing the difficult journey ahead, but few have tackled perhaps the more unknown segment: what do you do when you’ve beaten cancer? First-time director Matt Creed tries to answer this question with his film Lily, which finished its run at Tribeca Friday night. Loosely based on the life of Amy Grantham, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Creed and stars as Lily, the film follows its titular character as she ends her treatment for breast cancer and begins thinking about her next steps.

There’s a lot for Lily to reflect on. Not only does she need to look for a job, Lily reconsiders the life she has built for herself, including her relationship with an older boyfriend and her strained communication with her father. Now that she’s healthy, she wonders if she wants to return to her pre-cancer world. In a Q&A after the movie, Creed discussed his vision for Lily, expressing that the story is an “exploration of vulnerability, of someone being unsettled in life.” The film embodies this unsettled feeling with its many shots of Lily languidly roaming about the streets of New York or fiddling with old audio tapes, her mind obviously mulling over her choices. The inconsistent use of music during these scenes keeps with the theme of discomfort, as well as Creed’s voyeuristic camera use, which makes viewers wonder whether they are watching a narrative film or a documentary.

Grantham’s youthfulness and bully attitude towards her cancer inject an incredible amount of vibrancy into both her character and the film. It shows in the script, which actually includes a good portion of ad-libbed scenes that have a sense of genuineness to them. Lily is often portrayed in a childlike manner - playing with plastic dinosaurs in a bathtub, for example. This infantile behavior, according to Creed, is the purest state for her to be in and offers her the most clarity in dealing with her situation. It contrasts starkly with the “adults” in her life (boyfriend, mother, father), whose emotional disconnectedness offers little assurance or help to Lily when all she needs is a little guidance.

Another aspect of the film that worked well was the treatment scenes in which Lily receives her final radiations. It feels otherworldly, watching a humming and hulking machine hover menacingly over Lily in a dark room, when the rest of the film is washed in a cool city chill. Yet the variations in these scenes perfectly demonstrates Lily’s trajectory in thought. Each subsequent shot pulls back further, representing Lily’s growing objectivity as she makes more and more sense of her life. Though a lot of questions remain unanswered by the film’s end, the viewer get some comfort about where Lily is headed. This isn’t supposed to be a “feel sorry for me I have cancer” movie; rather, it’s a “okay, screw cancer, I’m getting over it” one. Though the film would have benefitted from more energy overall, it still offers viewers a realistic portrayal of how someone overcomes and moves on from such a life-changing event.

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