In a world where "Nothing about us without us..." has become a mantra of sorts for the disability community, the 22-minute short film Act of God could very well serve as Exhibit A as to why authentic representation is so incredibly important. The film, co-written and directed by Spencer Cook and Parker Smith, stars Cook as Stuart, a wheelchair user who also happens to be a bit of an asshole. Having burned out nearly every available direct support staff, he's pretty much reduced to online searches accompanied by more than a little desperation.
That's when Paul (Tinus Seaux) enters the picture, an inexperienced but willing potential caregiver who isn't exactly put at ease by Stuart's less than hospitable personality. Living in a body that won't provide him the physical independence that he craves, Stuart rebels against everything and everyone even if it's detrimental to his own well-being.
Cook, a wheelchair user with spinal muscular atrophy, co-wrote the script alongside Smith who, it just so happens, is not only a filmmaker but has also been Cook's live-in caregiver for the past five years. The result, warts and all, is a film that actually feels in its cinematic bones like it truly represents the disabled life with all its weirdness, quirks, melancholy, and moments of complete and utter joy.
As Stuart, Cook beautifully captures the frustration of having a mind capable of independence with a body that won't cooperate. Stuart's determination to be self-sufficient is portrayed in ways that are both downright funny and more than a little cringeworthy. When Stuart spies a $100 bill on the side street he wheels on his way to work, his efforts to somehow snag the cash become increasingly absurd and increasingly misguided.
Unsurprisingly, potential disaster ensues.
In addition to Cook's stellar work as Stuart, Tinus Seaux is exceptional as the kind of stoner giver you'd expect to find in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot! Indeed, I thought of that John Callahan biopic more than once while watching Act of God.
If you're a wheelchair user, and I am, you'll easily recognize the inclusion of a few casually placed lines and disability stereotypes throughout Act of God from the well-meaning but incredibly inept boss to infantilizing wheelchair references to the occasional situation nearly every wheelchair user faces to be the disarming entertainer who makes light of disability so everyone else around them will be comfortable. There's more and I found myself laughing with familiarity throughout Act of God.
Act of God is beautifully and creatively photographed by Taylor Camarot with a production design by Samantha Jean Robinson that is realistic in the way that it captures accessibility and the little ways in which everyday hazards are part of life.
One of several excellent films around disability screening at the 2022 Indy Shorts International Film Festival in Indianapolis, Act of God tells an engaging story while capturing disability with refreshing realism and honesty. Be sure to check it out if you get a chance!
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic