I've been writing for The Seattle International Film Festival program guide for 13 years. Some of the notes are written by programmers, some by freelancers like myself. I was watching a film called True Adolescents in 2009 when my Mom called to tell me my Dad was dying. I needed to travel to California right away, since he was fading quickly, so I got there as fast as I could.
My Dad, a heavy smoker, had suffered a massive heart attack. Against all odds, he survived, only to develop pneumonia afterward, the same disease that killed his heavy-smoking mother (seriously people, cut that shit out).
While in the ICU, they had him sedated into unconsciousness. I said my goodbyes, returned home, and hoped for the best. Once again, he beat the odds and recovered, but his cardiologist predicted that he only had a couple of years left at the most. Due to the condition of his lungs—he had acute bronchitis—he wasn't a viable candidate for surgery, so all he could do was to make the most of his remaining time (they had already ruled out angioplasty years before). But he never lost his sense of humor. If Dad was overweight when he went into the hospital, he emerged 50 pounds lighter thanks to the "Kaiser Permanente Diet." So life went on. At least for awhile.
Wiig and Hader as twins / Roadside Attractions
In Seattle, I returned to the work I had left behind, including True Adolescents, which I had only had time to watch halfway through. I finished watching the film, wrote my piece, and turned it in.
In no way did it remind me of my Dad, since it has nothing to do with fathers and congestive heart failure. Instead, Craig Johnson depicts a down-on-his-luck Seattle musician (nicely played by former musician Mark Duplass) who learns a few unfortunate truths about himself while on a camping trip with his nephew and a friend. It's a scrappy little indie that probably didn't cost much to make, but Johnson's writing and directing showed real promise.
Almost a year after my Dad's Lazarus-like recovery, I received a call from my Mom informing me that he had died—he didn't survive his second heart attack. I hadn't even responded to the last email he sent. I figured it could wait for a few days. I was wrong (and that will always bother me; closure is a wonderful thing).
Fast-forward four years, and press screenings for SIFF '14 started last week. One of the films I caught was The Skeleton Twins with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, and it's the best I've seen so far. I didn't check to see who directed it beforehand, so I had no idea that it represented Johnson's assured followup to the locally-shot True Adolescents (this time, he set the action in upstate New York).
The film, which also stars Luke Wilson and Modern Family's Ty Burrell, fulfills the promise of Johnson's first feature and, once again, it didn't remind me of my Dad, but the association remains, and it probably always will—though the long-ago death of a father does has a bearing on the actions of the central characters.
There's no moral to this story, other than that it's hard to forget what you were doing when you received a fateful phone call, however you choose to define that term—the birth of a child, the results of a diagnosis, or even the death (or near death) of a parent. I could've been watching literally anything when my Mom called. If my Dad had a say in the matter, I think he would've preferred that I was watching The Sopranos, his favorite show. For the record, the last film we watched together was The Lost Boys. I'm still not sure how to process that.
The Skeleton Twins plays the Egyptian on May 16 at 9:30pm. More info here.