It’s a feel good family comedy about breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. Yeah, that might have just caused you to a do a double-take, but it’s true. Writer/co-director/star Brooke Purdy took her own life experience and attempts to not lose her sense of humor and translated it to a screen experience that reminds us that somehow, sometimes, we do get through terrible times. For added truth, Purdy brought in her own family to tell this slightly warped version of their own experience. Quality Problems is not a documentary, but maybe we can call it a “docu-comedy.”
Whatever. I’m going to call it good.
The film opens with Bailey (Purdy) already processing her diagnosis. She had beaten cancer once before, but this tumor is now in her left breast. On top of that, her father (Chris Mulkey) has slipped out of his apartment in a flare-up of dementia, and, of course, Bailey has to deal with the horror of after-school pick-up. Look, if you’ve never had to wait outside an elementary school for your kids, you don’t know how irritating that can actually be.
And that’s the strength of this film. It’s often flat-out hilarious, but it’s also always real. As Bailey determines that the way to get through this is to make sure that everything stays as normal as possible for her kids, we get a spotlight on a loving family that still has the conflicts of any family. Especially since “normal” means that there’s no way that exercise coach Bailey is going to postpone her daughter Scout’s (Scout Purdy) 8th birthday party.
Her husband Drew (Doug Purdy) is a rock for her, but not a perfect one. A carpenter by day, he’s a bit of a goofball, but not as much as some of his friends. As the burden of taking care of the party falls to him, we get to see all sides — a serious, compassionate man who knows that light hearts have to be maintained. Purdy himself is a gifted comedian; a completely improvised scene with an unbilled Alfred Molina is a high point of the film. (Speaking of cameos — Cousin Oliver himself, Robbie Rist, shows up as a disinterested party supplies clerk.)
But it’s just one of many. The drama plays true; it’s an interesting role for Mulkey to be playing a once-slick guy (his staple for a decade or so) who keeps slipping out of coherence. Bailey’s best friend Paula (Jenica Bergere) is also not your average long-time best friend; her chemistry with Purdy is outstanding, just as that uneasy connection with a best friend’s significant other plays completely true.
At a time when there’s been a lot of talk about “Hollywood Elites,” it’s also refreshing to see a portrait of people who make a living in Hollywood (or at least North Hollywood/Burbank) who don’t really seem to be part of the industry. They’re decent, hard-working people who are just getting by. La-La Land isn’t only a city of stars; it’s a big, sprawling valley full of families.
After spending an hour and a half with the fictionalized Purdys, you feel like if you don’t actually know them, you really wish you could. The same goes for the real ones whose lives might not be quite the way they portray it on screen. They may not be us, but you hope they could be.
Friday, March 10 at 9:30 p.m. at the Hammer Theatre Center in San Jose
Saturday, March 11 at 3:45 p.m. at Santana Row in San Jose
Sunday, March 12 at 10:40 a.m. at Century 20 in Redwood City