What happens when you can’t stand the way your sibling does just about anything, but you’re forced to be with them during your father’s last days on Earth?
How many films do we need about slowly-dying friends or relatives, grimly portraying the step-by-step process, and ultimately achieving some reconciliation moment, prior to the condemned absconding this life? Let’s see, we have – in random order – Honeyglue, Biutiful, Sweet November, Stepmom, Terms of Endearment, The Fault in Our Stars, 50/50, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, My Sister’s Keeper, My Life Without Me… and on and on. Now the pantheon of “easy tear-squeezes” gets another lo-fi, highly unremarkable indie from aspiring writer/director Mike Kravinsky, enticingly titled Nothing To Do.
A Philadelphia radio DJ Kenny (Paul Fahrenkopf) has to make a difficult choice: “patch up” his dying father, Irv (Philip Lawton), for another few months of painful living, or – as the nurse eloquently puts it – let the old man “just stay comfortable.” With Irv’s permission, Kenny becomes his dad’s primary caregiver. Clichés ensue: Kenny mistakes his napping father for being dead; they banter about their past and share secrets (“I dropped you on the cement when you were an infant,” Irv says, “You just sort of went splat.”); coffins and urns are selected; and Kenny battles with his sister Rachel (Connie Bowman) over Irv’s custody, which the film claims to be the driving narrative but is more of a lazy sub-plot.
“…Kenny has to make a difficult choice: ‘patch up’ his dying father, or…’just stay comfortable.'”
Rachel caves in pretty quickly, see, so there’s little drama there. Life lessons are learned, old photo albums are flipped through – oh, and Kenny takes a break from all the moroseness to go bowling. Sounds highly intriguing, right? Thankfully, it’s all over within (a still-too-long) 80 minutes.
The film is dismal from the get-go – and not just due to its subject matter, but because anyone who’s seen a film will instantly see where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. The lighting, editing, camerawork and acting – particularly from the supporting cast – leave much to be desired, as does Liza Figueroa’s twangy and sentimental soundtrack. Most jokes, while admirable in their earnest attempts, fall smack on their faces. (Example of dialogue exchange: “Jerk? You’re an idiot!” “No, you’re an idiot.”)
“…relies on a relentless assault of grimness and sap…”
Fahrenkopf manages to provide a commanding presence with his upfront demeanor (“You stress me out too much,” he tells his sister), baritone voice, and thick moustache. There is one witty joke (that stretches on too long) when Kenny asks his father to turn the light on for him after he dies, as proof of life after death. Otherwise, Kravinsky relies on a relentless assault of grimness and sap to squeeze out tears.
For whom are these “terminally ill” films intended? Patients on their death beds most likely won’t find respite in witnessing some poor soul wither away, while the healthy will be reminded of life’s brevity. The better ones may at least provide wise, reassuring lessons. Kravinsly says nothing new about struggling with a terminal illness and moves at a pace more lethargic than its doomed character’s. At the end of the day, Nothing To Do doesn’t really do much of anything.
Nothing to Do (2018) Written and directed by Mike Kravinsky. Starring Paul Fahrenkopf, Philip Lawton, Connie Bowman, Patricia Talmage.
4 out of 10