Griffin and Phoenix

Director: Ed Stone

Not to sound cold-hearted but after years of “feel-good” movies about death—and yes, I do get the irony but in Hollywood free-spirited terminal illness has become an actual subgenre—it seems like quite a cruel cliché to play “I Can See Clearly Now” over the soundtrack. The music in Griffin and Phoenix is excellent yet at times, it feels a bit too on-the-nose. Instead of seeming like a wry extra character commenting on the goings on similar to the way Cat Stevens’ music was utilized to brilliant effect in Ashby’s Harold and Maude, we’re bombarded over the beginning of Stone’s movie with lyrics that exclaim, “hey man, now you’re really living” that plays just preceding the news given to our main character Griffin (Dermot Mulroney) as he learns that he has an exceptionally aggressive form of cancer which is rapidly spreading into lesions creating a near star across his chest. Determined not to spend the last one to two years of his life in the hospital, Griffin keeps his news quiet but attends a psychology class on death and dying where he first sees attractive Assistant Dean of Academic Standards Sarah Phoenix (Amanda Peet). While she’s reluctant to his attentions preferring her life of quiet solitude, soon she finds herself becoming involved with Griffin whose sudden zest for risk-taking manages to help bring her out of her shell. Those familiar with the original version of this 1970’s made-for-television movie will recall a certain major twist that occurs midway through the film regarding the fate of one character but writer John Hill proves adept at rewriting his original for a twenty-first century audience, even though some of the other plot points are easy to predict. Peet and Mulroney are both likable actors and they help augment the tired material but overall, it feels less like an actual film than a sudsy television movie of the week that tries to force tears from viewers instead of keeping things relatable. Griffin and Phoenix is set up like it should be a Butterflies Are Free and Sweet November hybrid but suddenly the contrived ending makes us acutely aware of its roots in 1970’s television.

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