Neither Stephanie nor I are pretty when we cry.
If you’re drawing a blank on why the above line makes sense in a post titled “It’s My Party,” you’ve obviously never seen the movie of the same name starring Eric Roberts and Gregory Harrison. This movie is not everyone’s cup of tea — the story is about Nick (Eric Roberts), has just been diagnosed with Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), a condition that attacks the brain and quickly destroys the victim’s sight, memory, and other brain function. Brandon (Gregory Harrison) is Nick’s ex-partner, who broke up with him a year before when he could no longer face living with a boyfriend with AIDS. The movie centers around a two-day period where Nick holds a farewell party for his friends and family. Having seen AIDS claim the lives of too many friends, Nick is determined to say farewell to his loved ones before the PML reduces him to a vegetative state for another few days of life.
Lots of controversial issues in this movie: homosexuality, right to die, assisted suicide, religious beliefs, estranged relationships, and parents who think that life would have turned out differently for their son if only they’d done something differently. Yet the script does a deft job of weaving through these issues to present us with a picture of a man who, while frightened by the thought of dying, is more frightened of being unable to let those close to him know how much he loves them when he goes. There is a lot of tension surrounding Nick, but he moves through it all with a direct yet compassionate sense of humor, cutting the tangles of jealousy and bitterness while helping people to come to acceptance of their loss. The final scene with Nick and Brandon is one of the simplest and most touching goodbyes I ever hope to see.
Some might be tempted to dismiss this movie as another film that proves Hollywood is out of touch with the lives of the majority of America. It is, after all, just a movie about a dying gay guy (yes, I have in fact heard someone describe this movie in just those terms). To them, I would ask what they were afraid of, if they are scared to see “a dying gay guy” facing his end with as much dignity and love as this movie shows. This is not a movie to watch in order to wage a philosophical or religious battle. This is a movie to watch to be reminded how deeply you care for those in your life, how much pain they would feel if you were gone and how much you would feel if they were gone. It is a movie that urges us — compells us — to reach out to others; it directs us to be peacemakers and bridge-builders rather than cling to our hurts and wounds.
There are a lot of people in my life that I love. I don’t think I tell them that enough. I hope that if I ever faced this situation, my party would be as full of people who loved me as Nick’s party. I hope that I would be as full of wisdom, humor, discernment, and ruthlessness as Nick was — able to help people let go of the grudges and disputes. I hope I would have made such an obvious difference in the world around me.