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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Film ‘Measures’ extraordinary

Published: January 29, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

In the film “Extraordinary Measures,” an ill eight-year-old, Megan Crowley (Meredith Droeger), has one request for a medicine that could very well save her life—it needs to be pink. But the medicine can’t be just any pink; it has to be dark pink because, as she maturely assesses, light pink is for babies.

Like many other girls her age, Megan has an affinity for the color pink and squishy stuffed animal penguins. But Megan really isn’t all that similar to other girls her age. In fact, in many ways, she’s anything but normal. She functions with the help of a motorized wheelchair, needs near-constant medical attention and considers her wheelchair races to be the best part of physical education class.

Like her six-year-old brother Patrick, Megan has Pompe disease, a neuromuscular disorder known for its enzyme deficiency and resemblance to muscular dystrophy. Due to respiratory issues, many patients like Megan and Patrick use breathing tubes and suffer from symptoms similar to those of muscular degeneration.

In spite of her medical ailments, Megan is still a normal child, or as normal as a patient with Pompe disease can be. She’s witty, precocious and loving, and provides great comedic relief in what might otherwise be perceived as a simply depressing story. In fact, Megan’s innocent request that her medicine be pink sets the tone for the film’s narrative—one which, instead of the sometimes clichéd feel-bad dramas, delivers a balance of heart-tugging emotion with crisp comedic timing.

The film, based on a true story, chronicles John Crowley’s (Brendan Fraser) quest to find a lasting treatment or cure for Pompe disease. The real story took place in Cambridge, Mass., over a decade ago, and resulted in the creation of Novazyme Pharmaceuticals, a company eventually bought up by Cambridge’s Genzyme Corporation.

The scenes between John and Aileen Crowley (Keri Russell) and several doctors reveal that the life expectancy of Pompe patients is between eight and nine years. Eight-year-old Megan and six-year-old Patrick are approaching those ages, and are at risk of becoming just another statistic by succumbing to an early death.

Determined to save his children’s lives, John Crowley makes contact with top researcher Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) to see if he can manufacture a cure. In the process, John Crowley ends up leaving his established job to help garner financial backing for Stonehill’s quest for a cure.

This is, by all accounts, certainly a risk because if the project fails, John will be left with no job, no money and no prospect of paying his sick children’s medical bills. Considering this, Russell’s Aileen asks her husband if he’s crazy. After all, it’s an impossible dream and addresses the perennial question: Just how far would you go to save your family? But John seems crazy enough to take the risk.

Unlike some other medical miracle movies that, like a bitter pill, leave a bad taste in your mouth, this movie delivers extraordinary messages in a lighter, less preachy voice. The characters are easy to relate to, and rather than persisting as faceless statistics, those who have the fairly unknown Pompe disease prove that their lives aren’t all doom and gloom.

Harrison Ford’s rough-around-the-edges Dr. Robert Stonehill—Bob for short—provides a nice counterpart to Fraser’s businessman persona, John Crowley. All at once they seem to be complete opposites—John, the money crunching businessman who will do anything to save his family, and Bob, the disheveled bachelor who likes to roll with the punches and call his own shots. But like the saying goes, opposites attract, and the seemingly imperfect partnership turns out to be just what each man needs.

The trailer for “Extraordinary Measures” packs the emotional punch that many movies of its genre include: the uplifting music, the adorable yet physically afflicted children, the determined parents. Yet what’s refreshing and unique about “Extraordinary Measures” is its ability to mix sharp comedic timing with tender emotional moments.

Stonehill’s habit of listening to loud music in the lab—a practice that irks his fellow researchers—helps juxtapose humor with serious scientific work, and Megan’s innocent, yet beyond-her-years questioning of the researcher allows the viewer to see the young girl beyond her disease.

It is also interesting to see the portrayal of the effect of Pompe disease on the Crowley’s family dynamics and household economics, and its ability to transform the way John views his ultimate dream. The forces of business versus science, science versus sheer humanity and objectivity versus familial loyalty also come together to reinforce the impossible nature of the Crowley family’s quest.

Yet, as is true throughout the film, the sharp comedic timing of several of the characters breaks the emotional silence and shows that life doesn’t always have to be viewed so seriously. In this case, life imitates art because even in tragedy, there is hope, and most certainly humor.