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With one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of their lives, the impact of the dreaded disease is, to say the least, pervasive in our culture. Five, Lifetime’s interconnected series of five short films attempts to dramatize the emotional turmoil wrought by the cancer most common in women.
The result is a somewhat odd collection of stories—each of which is titled after its cancer-stricken female protagonist—that are told by an even odder collection of directors: Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys, Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World) and Patty Jenkins (Monster).
PHOTOS: Jennifer Aniston’s Lifetime Project ‘Five’ Screens in Washington, D.C.
In “Charlotte,” Moore gives us a nostalgic glimpse into 1960s home where a mother (Ginnifer Goodwin) lies on her deathbed, and her young daughter, Pearl (Ava Acres), is shielded from reality by her extended family.
“Mia,” which Aniston directs, chronicles the emotional redemption of a woman (Patricia Clarkson) who, certain she is going to die after learning she has stage-four cancer, blows through her retirement savings and casual friendships before going into remission and finding romantic love with a bank loan officer (Tony Shalhoub).
Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World) tries to spice up the sometimes-droll-proceedings with “Cheyanne,” the story of a sexy stripper (Lyndsy Fonseca) and her breast-obsessed, camera-ready, mobenforcer husband (Taylor Kinney).
Alicia Keys manages to inspire some genuinely moving performances out of the actors in “Lil”, which explores the corrosive family dynamic between a mother (Jennifer Lewis) and her daughters (Rosario Dawson and Tracee Ellis Ross) when the youngest announces she’s undergoing a lumpectomy.
Patty Jenkins’ “Pearl” brings the drama full circle as the Charlotte’s daughter, and the oncologist (Jeanne Tripplehorn) who has helped treat most of the other women in the film, mustwage her own, inevitable battle with the disease that killed her mother.
As for those celebrity directors, Keys’ work stands out as for its pacing and organic conflict, Moore gets high marks for her camera work, and Aniston, whose short relies on a dizzying series of subtitles to guide the viewer, might well want to stick to acting. Jenkins knows how to jerk a tear or two, but it remains a mystery why no one dissuaded Spheeris from embarking on “Chayenne.”
Sponsored by Walgreens, who get a prominent plug in “Pearl,” part of a social media and merchandizing campaign meant to heighten awareness of breast cancer, and directed by such a seemingly disparate collection of filmmakers, Lifetime can rightfully claim that Five is, in their words, a “groundbreaking original movie.”
But the drama itself comes across as a hybrid public service announcement and after school special in which each line seems crafted for maximal symbolic impact. As a result it feels more like a heavy-handed therapy session. To be sure, combating a disease like breastcancer is a noble endeavor. Creating lasting characters (think Emma in Terms of Endearment) and a satisfying dramatic arc isn’t a bad goal, either.
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