Saturday, November 19, 2011
Two-fer reviews--THE DONOR and AMERICAN COUSINS
I’m going to write a “two-fer” review today. I’m taking a look at Scottish novelist, Helen FitzGerald’s novel, The Donor, along with her screenwriter husband Sergio Casci’s film, AMERICAN COUSINS.
What if you were the only parent of two children and it was within your power to save one of their lives, but not both? How is such a decision even possible? How would you live with yourself whichever child you decided should live? How would the child you decided to sacrifice view you before she died? How would the child you saved regard you?
How would you look at yourself, no matter what choice you made?
I’ve just finished reading Helen FitzGerald’s novel, The Donor, which poses this very same problem for Will Marion whose wife Cynthia left him years ago for her criminal boyfriend, leaving their twin daughters, Georgie and Kay for Will to raise.
Twin daughters who both develop kidney disease and need transplants to survive.
I can’t remark on the plot much because it has multiple twists and turns that the reader should discover for him- or herself. Suffice to say that this is a complicated, multi-layered story that surprises at every turn, the tension building until it’s excruciating. Any parent that reads it will be forced to consider their own children and wonder how they’d react—what they’d do in the same circumstance.
It’s a brilliant character study of the three main players—the father and his two daughters--as each work through the psychological minefield individually. FitzGerald has delivered a powerful drama, gorgeously writ with grace, black humor, and compassion, and is the kind of literature one seizes upon when encountering its like and proclaims to all who will listen: Read this book!
How did it affect me?
The instant I read the last page, I drove down to my local license bureau and changed my driver’s license so that it showed I’m an organ donor. That’s how powerful it was. As perhaps an interesting aside, in a conversation with Ms. FitzGerald, when I told her what I’d done she revealed that she’d done the same thing in the midst of writing the book. I think many readers will do the same thing. I don’t know of many novels that trigger this kind of action.
…and then, I watched Helen’s screenwriter husband Sergio Casci’s film, AMERICAN COUSINS.
The first time by myself and then my wife came home from work and I watched it again with her.
Simply put, this is what movies, as an art form, are all about. It had every single element a movie should have—intelligent and genuinely funny humor, crime drama, a riveting and thoroughly sweet romance, justice meted out, incredible obstacles, a fantastic character arc, incredible music and wonderful scenery. It made me want to immigrate to Scotland. This is a movie that resonated with me and keeps on resonating. It has a depth to it rarely seen in most films these days.
I’m not a fan of romantic comedies, but this one was different. In fact, when I was raving about it to my wife, she asked me if I was sure this was a romantic comedy. Are you sure it doesn’t have any helicopters in it or car chases, she asked, suspiciously. When I told her there wasn’t a single helicopter in it, she put her hand on my forehead to see if I was feverish…
I tried to explain to her that while, yes, it was a romantic comedy, it also had “guy” stuff in it. Although no ‘copter crashes there was an explosion… some shooting…
The movie is based on Casci’s own family story, when two cousins immigrate from Tuscany, one to America and the other to Scotland, each vowing to the other that whoever made his fortune first would then send for the other to join him.
Many years later, although each family has become firmly entrenched in his respective adopted country, they’ve remained in touch. When two of the American family, Gino and Settimo, now Mafiosi, find themselves on the run as a result of a criminal deal gone wrong with Ukrainian bad guys, they decide to take advantage of their family ties by flying to Scotland and laying low in their Scottish cousin Roberto’s home. They’ve assumed he’s cut from the same cloth as the American branch—a tough gangster—but they quickly find out he’s a gentle and peaceful man who, along with his grandfather, owns a fish and chips restaurant in Glasgow. From this fish out of water beginning, emerges a story that’s really got everything—the aforementioned elements—all delivered with elegant understatement. Nothing is over the top as is so often in films like this. The violence has a realistic edge, the romance is bittersweet and not syrupy, and just about everyone in the movie is believable. Many times these days, I’ll see the promo and then go to the movie and that’s the best part of the movie. With this film, they could have picked any part of the movie for a promo as the “best part” and would have been spot on. No weaknesses—it delivers throughout.
This is what more movies should be.
Since I’ve read Helen’s novel and seen Sergio’s movie, we’ve become long-distance friends and one time I asked them how they worked. Turns out, they work in the same room and often one turns to the other when he or she encounters a problem and consults with the other. That must be why I feel the same “heart” in each of their works. An amazing couple!
Presently, Sergio is working on developing the screenplay from Helen’s novel, The Donor. I can’t wait until it comes out!
Another “inside” bit of info I learned. Both artists are in the movie AMERICAN COUSINS. They are the windsurfing couple getting ready to launch their—whaddya call it? windsurfer boat?—in the scene at Loch Lomand. Before I’d seen the movie, I’d researched Sergio on the Internet and saw a handsome dude in the photos with his interviews. Just looked like your average successful movie dude—coifed and dressed ala Hollywood “success” style. Then, I saw the scene where he and Helen appeared… and nearly choked. He didn’t look like the photos I’d seen at all. In the movie scene, he was a bit… how should I say this?... a bit portly. When I mentioned my surprise, he laughed and said as soon as he saw the film, he began a diet immediately…
I’m a huge, huge fan of both Helen FitzGerald and Sergio Casci. Check out their work. You’ll be glad you did.