I happen to believe in the right-to-die. So, theoretically, I'm a solid member of the target audience for Bradley Berman's feature doc Jack Has a Plan screening this week as part of Indianapolis's Indy Film Fest. The film centers around Jack Tuller, whom we initially meet as he's surrounded by friends and loved ones only a few moments before he'll take the final steps necessary to end his life via assisted suicide. It's not a completely unreasonable choice. Diagnosed with a brain tumor 25 years earlier, Jack up until recently had been living a fairly solid quality of life until his medical circumstances took a significant turn for the worse and he found himself actually living into the fact that he's been considered terminally ill for 25 years.
While he's fought the odds, the simple truth is he's going to die. He simply wants to die on his own terms.
I can respect that decision. In fact, I likely even agree with it and would likely do the same if I didn't live in a state where politicians even when you can take a crap (I'm exaggerating. A little).
Here's the thing. I actually didn't enjoy Jack Has a Plan. At all. This is more than a little suprising to me, not just because of my agreement with the film's key emphasis but because I've tended to resonate with films produced by Chris Metzler.
However, quite simply, despite an obvious effort to paint Jack in a positive light I can't deny I found him, at least as presented here, to be a self-centered, self-absorbed, insufferable jerk. I didn't like him for a single moment and it was that inability to like him, or at least to appreciate him, that contributed greatly to my finding Jack Has a Plan to be an insufferable, voyeuristic bore of a film.
I kept thinking that at some point I would click with Jack, though one particular scene where he abruptly quits his job without consulting his wife, though for understandable reasons, sealed the deal for me - I was essentially spending 70+ minutes knowing perfectly well that I was basically waiting for Jack to die.
I get it. I really do. But, the sad thing here is that by the end of this just over one hour film I didn't actually even care.
There are admirable moments here - Jack spends his final days connecting friends, having quality time with his wife, reconciling with his mother, and even locating his biological father. Unfortunately, much of it feels histrionic and manufactured and I can't help but think it all feels a little attention-seeking. I mean, seriously. If I'm dying, and especially if I've made the decision to die at my own hands within days, am I really re-establishing broken relationships?
In what way is that a healthy choice? For anyone? It actually strikes me as kind of cruel.
Production quality is fine here and I do admire Bradley Berman's efforts to construct a meaningful, even inspiring film here. Self-acknowledged as one of Jack's best friends and having filmed him over the last three years of his life, Berman clearly considers this a labor of love and committed to the project even with his own tangible investment in the life of his friend. That had to have been difficult.
In the end, however, Jack Has a Plan centers around a guy who maintained a vibrant lifestyle for years after he was diagnosed as terminally ill. Once he becomes ill, identified as uncontrollable seizures and near constant exhaustion, it's easy to understand his position upon realization that his end is finally near. However, the way that Jack Has a Plan is constructed it ends up feeling more like a gimmick than an actual tribute to Jack's life. As the closing credits were rolling, I wasn't so particularly sad that Jack had died. I was mostly sad that it didn't feel like he ever really lived.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic