Access and affection, which can fog the lens of the documaker, are precisely what make “So Much So Fast” so moving and engaging. A story about fighting disease and confronting death, the film is a safe bet for festival runs and heavy cable play. But helmers Steve Ascher and Jeanne Jordan mine such fresh feelings from what might in other hands have been a predictable story that the docu just may find its way into theaters as well.
The married filmmakers discovered their story in a 2000 issue of the New Yorker that contained a story by Jon Weiner on the struggle of brothers Stephen and Jamie Heywood with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). When Stephen, 29, was diagnosed, Jamie quit his job and dedicated himself to finding a cure, starting a medical research foundation that often found itself at odds with entrenched medical attitudes. Speed, Jamie points out, is of the essence in beating ALS. Sufferers decline so quickly that medical science has to be just as quick in its decisionmaking and be willing to take chances.
The film is ostensibly about Stephen, his marriage, his persistence in continuing his work building houses and his physical disintegration. But Jamie is easily as complex, maybe more so. In his nearly desperate refusal to believe that doctors and medical researchers are doing all they can for ALS sufferers (and he makes a good case they’re not), he achieves a status worthy of a character in Shakespeare — or, perhaps more aptly, Beckett.
Ascher, a fine cinematographer, and Jordan, who handsomely edited the film, get so close to the Heywoods — including Stephen’s stalwart wife, Wendy — that they become a factor in the drama. Still, this is largely a story about brotherly love — and medical frustration.
As Ascher and Jordan showed in their award-winning docu “Troublesome Creek” (1996), about Jordan’s parents and the loss of the family’s Iowa farm, the documakers do their best work up close. “So Much So Fast” is as intimate a movie as one could imagine, but the directors never lose their perspective. And the Heywoods, for all their trouble, are never portrayed as pitiful, but rather as men of existential nobility.