A passion project for producer-director Alan M. Blassberg, Pink & Blue is a Kickstarter-funded documentary designed to raise awareness of the hereditary gene mutations that dramatically increase the chance of developing breast cancer, in both women and men. Every year in the U.S. around 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and around 400 will die from it. The mutations in question, of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene, account for around 20 to 25 percent of hereditary breast cancers and about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers.
Going on very limited theatrical release from today in order to qualify for Academy Awards consideration, Pink & Blue drowns a serious, engaging topic in a syrupy gloop of sentimentality. Blassberg has a background in reality TV shows like Wife Swap and Temptation Island, which clearly informs his film’s soapy, emotive tone. He frames the story in personal terms, detailing the death of his grandmother, aunt and sister to breast cancer, as well as recording his girlfriend Stephanie Swartz‘s treatment for the same disease. Besides interviewing himself and Swartz on camera, he also meets medical experts, cancer survivors and women as young as 20 with BRCA gene mutations who have elected to have preventative surgery.
The issue of male breast cancer arises midway through the film, with Blassberg heeding the genetic warning from his family to begin having regular screenings. But after being pressed to wear pink at a mostly female awareness event, he throws a bizarre tantrum on camera. “You just question your masculinity,” he protests, “I feel like a woman.” A more imaginative film-maker might have challenged the silly sexist stereotypes behind such gendered color codes instead of getting comically huffy like Steve Buscemi‘s Mister Pink in Reservoir Dogs.
In fairness to Blassberg, several of his male interviewees express similar reservations about feeling “emasculated” by their breast cancer diagnosis, which is understandable, but seems oddly petty and petulant given the potential seriousness of their illness. But some react with comedy and warmth too. After enduring a mammogram, one man admits “I found out what my wife had been complaining for the past 30 years…”
Blassberg adds a minor celebrity angle by interviewing a handful of famous women who have survived breast cancer or had pre-emptive surgery to avoid it, including ABC Eyewitness News host Stacey Sager and former American Idol contestant Kara DioGuardi. But Hollywood’s best known poster girl for preventative mastectomy, Angelina Jolie, eludes him. The closest he gets is a chat with Jolie’s surgeon Dr. Kristi Funk and a brief trawl through some of the ignorant media commentary which followed her surgery.
While a skilled feature documentary maker might use humor, anger, journalistic rigor and stylistic flair to make dry subject matter come alive, Pink & Blue feels very flat and pedestrian. Everybody Blassberg interviews is on an “emotional journey”. Tears are shed, heart-strings plucked and inspirational slogans shared, all to an over-emphatic musical backdrop of weeping pianos and sappy soft-rock ballads full of jarringly trite lines like “some pain is meant to set you free”. Ouch. Haven’t these poor people suffered enough?
Blassberg ends the film with a surprise romantic twist which will either melt your heart, or deepen the sense of watching a glorified vanity project, depending on your cynicism levels. Judged on its cinematic merits, Pink & Blue is deeply conventional and frequently irritating. But as an educational tool, it is a worthwhile project, and may even save lives.
Production company: Pink & Blue Inc.
Cast: Alan M. Blassberg, Stephanie Swartz, Kristi Funk, Stacey Sager, Kara DioGuardi
Director: Alan M. Blassberg
Screenwriters: Sue Bailey and Alan M. Blassberg
Executive Producer: Amy Byer Shainman
Cinematographer: Scott Carrithers
Editor: Becca Berry
Unrated, 90 minutes