Laughter, so they say, is the best medicine. This may explain why when Taylor Darcy (Jonathan Silverman), a successful advertising executive in the prime of his life, comes down with a nasty case of colon cancer, he refuses to take it seriously. Oh sure, he goes through the painful surgery and all, but not before repeatedly drinking himself into a stupor and caustically, sneeringly, making all those well-intentioned sympathizers around him feel like schmucks. Granted, while a little self-pity might be understandable in Taylor’s condition, no one else seems as amused by his antics as he is.
No one, that is, except Lynn (Natasha Gregson Wagner), a waifish leukemia patient whom Taylor, on a desperate search for ice, runs into in the hospital hallway one night. Maybe it just takes one to know one, but Lynn easily matches Taylor mock for snarl, refusing to give into his self-pity while engaging in some well-aimed cynicism towards life in the process. Together, this caustic couple forms a halting friendship that eventually blossoms into an unlikely life-affirming love affair.
Give credit where credit’s due. It takes guts to try to make a romantic comedy — or any sort of comedy, for that matter — revolving around cancer patients. Yet writer/director Wendell Morris does just that in “The Medicine Show.” Based on his own real life experience, this quirky film very nearly pulls off the impossible. Very nearly, but not quite. Though Silverman is well cast as the terminally, if you’ll pardon the expression, smart-assed Taylor, Morris compounds the difficulties of making a cancer comedy by having such a hosehead for a lead character. Of course, that’s the whole point and the challenge so ably faced by Wagner’s bizarrely charismatic turn as Lynn. While we merely endure Taylor’s often clunky attempts at comedy, this film’s dynamic shifts entirely and favorably when he — and we — meet Lynn.
Sure, the storyline is too neat from this point on; too simple and not nearly harrowing enough to give the film the required emotional gravitas, but it’s intriguing nonetheless to watch the relationship evolve between this utterly mismatched couple. (Not to mention intriguing to watch one of the strangest love scenes in movie history. Who says IV bags aren’t sexy?)
Although “The Medicine Show” tries too hard to be funny, it’s still a brave attempt to show that if we humans can laugh at something as horrific as cancer, we can laugh at anything.