--WINNER, best documentary feature, ZERO FILM FESITVAL
--Official Selection SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
Entertainment Insiders Honorable Mention -- Best Documentary
By Doug Brunell of FilmThreat
Watching "The Closer She Gets" puts you into a love/hate relationship with its creator, Craig Ouellette. You'll love the fact that he made such a moving, powerful documentary, but you'll hate him for making it about his dying mother. You see, Jane has a brain tumor, and this is what happens to her.
Filmed with minimal equipment, you get the feeling you are watching a home movie, which gives the film a certain sense of intimacy. Ouellette doesn't offer much in the way of commentary, either, so you're left with your own feelings (which is exactly how this should've been done). He doesn't sugarcoat things, and the fact that the family is so average makes this even harder to watch. They go to church, they pose for Christmas photos, they like to sing, they have a strong sense of unity, and Jane seems like the last person you'd ever want this happening to. She keeps such a strong outlook through her ordeal that you just know she'll pull through. When things take a turn for the worst, all in front of the camera no less, you can't help but wish
Ouellette would stop the damn production and leave you hanging. Then you could at least imagine your own happy ending. Ouellette has more respect than that for his mother, though. To spare us the inevitable outcome is to disrespect her. To see her fighting to the very end, looking over people's shoulders as she thinks she sees angels, is the epitome of the human condition.
Like I said, it's a love/hate relationship and this = a film that takes you through a minefield of emotions. Good times are celebrated. The bad ones are silently endured. And you have a front row seat to it all. Some may see it as cruel that a son would do this, but I saw it as a monument to a life he greatly respected and admired. Jane Ouellette was a nurse. She helped people for a living. Her son is a filmmaker. This is his way of helping himself deal with the agonizing grief of losing the person his girlfriend calls the number one lady in his life. If it can help other people deal with their pain, more power to them, but I get the sense he never cared about that. He just wanted to honor his mother, and he did a spectacular job.
By Scott Foundas of Variety
Though its title suggests romantic comedy, "The Closer She Gets" is anything but. Documenting in harrowing detail his mother's brave, losing battle against brain cancer, filmmaker Craig Ouellette eschews the crude sentimentality of most fictional portraits of death and disease to hone in, with an anthropologist's scrutiny, on the ways in which the human body can betray itself. In doing so, he may have made a picture few viewers will have the stamina to endure, but which earns a place of honor alongside such other uncompromising records of mortality as Donna Deitch's "Angel on My Shoulder" and Allan King's "Dying at Grace."
Seen from one perspective, Jane Ouellette's death happened quickly: Initially diagnosed in the fall of 2000, she was dead one year later. But as we bear witness to Jane's excruciating physical and psychological deterioration, the picture suggests the way that illness can transform our perception of time, so that an eternity might transpire in a moment, while a moment might stretch out over an eternity.
By Mark Johnstone, Photo Editor, International Documentary Magazine
It is an honest, unpretentious portrayal of Craig's Mother's struggle, which is made very
intimate, by his camera-work, interaction with on-screen subjects, subdued soundtrack, and real-time editing.
Hi, Craig -
I just returned from Benton Hospice Service where I dropped off the DVD of The Closer She Gets for the other two on the selection committee to preview. I watched it this morning and absolutely loved it.
Where to begin? Well, for starters, it made me smile some and cry a lot. Just 13 months ago I was in Santa Monica at the bedside of my best friend from middle school days as she died of colon cancer. The scenes at the end of the film perfectly mirrored my friend's death throes, and I was glad that you had the courage to put on film what death really looks like. As a culture we Americans are so resistant to dealing with the death and dying process - in my hospice training our medical director commented that unlike many other cultures Americans view death as "optional" which of course it's not but we try to act like it is. So I was very engaged at an emotional level, but I can't imagine anyone watching your movie without a similar reaction, although I am guessing that some folks simply won't have the stomach for the film at all (my husband being one . . . .). But for the purposes of our film festival, I think it's a perfect choice and I will most certainly vote to include it. I'm hoping the other two women will agree.
There were many fine scenes in the movie that I found very moving. The wedding on your parents' 35th anniversary was one - your mother looked splendid and your father so proud, and it was such a sweet and lovely gesture on everyone's part to make that happen. I think too that it highlighted the love your parents shared and made so much more poignant your father's comment at the end, "We had so many plans." The ending scenes where you, your dad and brother scattered your mother's ashes in a variety of venues also were beautiful. The entire film was a fitting tribute to your mother - a wonderful woman - and your entire family who showed so much fortitude in dealing with her illness.
I can't imagine how difficult this film was for you to edit, so thanks to Dan Kraus for helping you with this monumental undertaking. Editing is challenging at any level, but to have the footage be about your own mother dying, well, I frankly don't know how you did it. What a labor of love and a testimony to how much your mother meant to you. Your father and brother are also to be commended for participating in this project. They were remarkably natural and candid throughout, which couldn't have been easy for them. I also enjoyed encountering Cadry near the end of the film and watching her (and you!) in the interview at the LA screening in the special features section of the DVD.
I think you made many good decisions in producing this film. One that struck me and stayed with me was the scene where the music therapy woman was singing "I Can See Clearly" and the reoccurrence of the song near the end. I liked the simplicity of this selection and think it underscores the brutal reality of what your family was going through - moments of great poignance along with so much pain and grief. I've been humming the song all morning.
So much more I could say but I need to end - my husband and I are leaving today for a 3 day raft trip down the Rogue River so I've got to get ready. Craig, thank you SO much for making this film and for sharing it with me. I'm very hopeful that we'll choose The Closer She Gets for our "film festival" and would love it if you and Cadry were able to come to Oregon for the screening. I'll get back to you when I know more.
Be well, and thanks again - I truly loved your movie which moved me deeply.