The Sympathy Card

It’s been more than once that I’ve faced the prospect of a loved one struggling with cancer. Sadly, the win/loss record is nothing to celebrate. Cancer is one of the few diseases that affects everyone. When cancer strikes a marriage, everything changes. This is the basis of Brendan Boogie’s The Sympathy Card.

Unlucky at love, Josie Bacon (Nika Ezell Pappas) joins a lesbian soccer league in hopes of meeting more single women. She hits the jackpot in Emma Bordeau (Petey J. Gibson) and in a brief musical montage, the two fall in love and get married. But Emma is a smoker and does not have long to live as she developed lung cancer over the years.

Emma plays the cancer card makes a “deathbed” order for Josie. Before Emma passes, Josie needs to find someone new…with Emma’s approval. Our story takes Josie to a dinner party, where she meets her sister-in-law’s only lesbian friend. Then Josie is off to her brother’s game group and then to a party with her “Amazonian” friends. Josie is just not finding any joy complying with Emma’s odd request and only does it because she loves her.

“…Josie Bacon joins a lesbian soccer league in hopes of meeting more single women. She hits the jackpot in Emma…”

Things change when Josie connects with her florist Siobhan (Lauren Neal). Siobhan helped Josie pick flowers for her initial dates with Emma. Siobhan is suddenly game with the prospect, and the two go out on a date. When things go just a little too far with Siobhan, Josie’s problems with the whole arrangement intensify and worsen with Emma in the third act with the introduction of an unexpected plot twist.

There’s a lot to love about The Sympathy Card. For starters, it would be unfair to call the film a lesbian cancer story (not the most appealing new genre of film). While you do get the ins-n-outs of the lesbian dating scene, cancer is still cancer. I want to point out the performance of Nika Ezell Pappas as Josie. She is in practically every scene of the movie, and she balances Josie’s conflict and authenticity beautifully. One moment, she’s the nerd, who can’t get dates. Then she’s coping with a dying loved one and finally, struggling to remain faithful to her first love all the while cheating on her with a hall pass. Her burgeoning relationship with Siobhan is real and becomes all the more complicated near the end.

“…how honest and truthful it is about an aspect of cancer you don’t see that often in films.”

My other favorite relationship is between Emma and her mother Margaret (Dorothy Dwyer). The two do not get along at all as Emma is always throwing her homosexuality in her mother’s puritan face. Honestly, I’m not sure if Margaret is really homophobic or just thinks her daughter is an asshole.

What I like most about Brendan Boogie’s story is how honest and truthful it is about an aspect of cancer you don’t see that often in films. He addresses finding love after cancer but places the search during the cancer. There’s an actual episode of The Love Boat that does the same thing, but this one is more thoughtful. His story takes no short cuts and has an ending that I’ve hated in other films, but works perfectly in this one. I also love seeing LGBT stories that branch off into new directions rather the hitting on the same, overused themes.

The Sympathy Card (2019) Written and directed by Brendan Boogie. Starring Nika Ezell Pappas, Petey J. Gibson, Lauren Neal.

8 out of 10 stars

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