One Last Thing…
June 13, 2006
Fresh from his feature film debut of the underrated Prey for Rock ‘n’ Roll (2003), director Alex Steyermark’s next project, One Last Thing… (2005) looked, on paper anyways, like the potential for a cliché-ridden mess – your standard disease of the week T.V. movie. He has avoided this trap by casting smart, strong actors and crafting a screenplay that manages to subvert some of the conventions of this kind of movie.
Dylan (Angarano) and his mother, Karen (Nixon) are invited onto national television by United Wish Givers Foundation that grants last wishes to the terminally ill. Dylan is dying from cancer; however, being the horny teenager that he is, he wants to spend a weekend alone with his favourite super model, Nikki Sinclair (Mabrey) much to his mother’s chagrin.
Dylan seems to have accepted his condition and this gives him a certain amount of bravado. He even knows where he wants his ashes spread after he’s been cremated – the place where he and his father (Hawke) used to fish when he was younger. As Dylan’s condition worsens, he realizes that he has little time and too many things that he wants to do.
Dylan finally meets Nikki who visits him at home for a brief time but she is only doing it as a PR opportunity to salvage her faltering career. He decides to go to New York City with his two best friends in an attempt to hook up with Nikki again and fulfill his last wish. It is inevitable that these two will cross paths again and when they do, for the last time, it is dramatically different than the first, not only for them but for us as we have more insight into what motivates both characters.
Both Dylan and Nikki are haunted by dead loved one, he with his father and her by a sweetheart with the intention of getting married. Both figures represent simpler times when life wasn’t as bleak as it for them now. Dylan, in particular, is haunted by his father’s presence like a ghost. He sees him in a police car and walking across a busy intersection. Nikki is willfully killing herself with pills and alcohol while Dylan has no choice in whether he lives or dies. They are two people filled with pain – his is physical in nature while hers is emotional.
Michael Angarano resists the urge to play Dylan as a brave martyr and instead plays him as a typical cocky teenager understandably bitter about his condition, but underneath it all he’s barely keeping it together. This young actor had a brief, but memorable role in Almost Famous (2000) and showed off his excellent comic timing with a reoccurring guest spot on the sitcom Will & Grace. However, it is with this role that he shows some fine dramatic chops.
Cynthia Nixon keeps the film grounded with her strong performance as Dylan’s brave mother. She conveys, quite well, the helplessness her character feels watching her child die before her eyes and is unable to do anything about it. Paralleling her son’s weekend in New York is Karen’s growing friendship with his football hero (Messner). He provides a sympathetic ear for her to voice all of her fears and talk about what she’s going through.
Nikki finally fulfills Dylan’s wish but not quite in the way you’d expect. In a way, he saves her, teaching her the importance of life in a way that isn’t too cheesy even if it feels like that Julia Roberts weepie, Dying Young (1991) revisited. Steyermark has crafted a sweet fantasy steeped in magical realism. The strong cast helps transcend the rather cliché set-up and their performances keep the film rooted in reality even when it takes off to flights of fancy.
There are three “Outtakes/Alternate Takes,” including different takes of the fight at Dylan’s school, the faux interview with the porn star that Dylan and his friends watch on television and Nikki’s unruly behaviour at a fashion show.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
“Higher Definition: One Last Thing…Episode” is a profile of the movie that features interviews with some of the cast. Agarano talks briefly about how he prepared for the role while Nixon describes how the movie mixes genres and even has a mystical element. Steyermark wanted to make a film for teens that didn’t condescend or pander to them.
Finally, there is an audio commentary by director Alex Steyermark. He and his childhood friend, Barry Stringfellow, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, grew up in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania where the film is initially set. Early on, when they took it to various studios, executives wanted to change the screenplay so that Dylan didn’t have cancer and instead came up with lame suggestions like giving him acne instead. Not surprisingly, Steyermark decided to seek independent financing. The story was inspired by Stringfellow’s father’s battle with cancer and Dylan’s relationship with his two best friends mirrored the screenwriter’s friendship with Steyermark at that age. This is a solid track as the director keeps talking about filming anecdotes and offers excellent observations about the actors’ performances that transcend the usual fluffy praise one usually hears on commentaries.