In 2003, actress/photographer Kris Carr was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The resulting home movies, as well as interviews with others undergoing treatment, provide the basis for “Crazy Sexy Cancer,” a more provocative title than the documentary that follows. It’s easy to empathize with Carr’s ordeal, and a degree of self-indulgence is certainly understandable given the circumstances. That said, the alternating moments of pretentiousness and heavy-handedness are much less easily forgiven.
“It’s a story about looking for a cure, and finding your life,” Carr says in her narration near the outset, telegraphing the Hallmark messages to come.
Carr goes through various stages in facing up to her mortality and fighting the disease. The first half of that process involves a search for meaning and identity, while the latter includes exploring alternative treatments, leading to, among other things, an existential discussion with a man resembling a Dr. Seuss character.
Carr’s narration is consistently cliche-ridden and couched in self-help platitudes, perhaps in keeping with the related book coming out this fall. “I didn’t want cancer to make the next move. So I did,” she says at one point, later asking, in pondering the arbitrary nature of her situation, “Did I fly too close to the sun?”
Fortunately, the narrative periodically strays to consider the lot facing other women with cancer, providing some respite from Carr’s musings and a variety of voices, all wrestling with the same issues of defiance (one hosts a “Fuck cancer” benefit), self-pity and perseverance.
In doing so, however, Carr somewhat neglects developing aspects of her own story, to the point where — other than a romance that began during the filming, mostly off screen, with her collaborator Brian Fassett — it’s difficult to see how exactly she “found” a life, or for that matter if she had truly misplaced one prior to being diagnosed.
To its credit, this documentary does aim higher than most recent fare on TLC, which, like A&E, has dumbed down and tarted up, rendering its initials meaningless to chase younger demos with such oddities as tattoo artists and little people. Yet while demystifying cancer is a laudable objective, in the final analysis “Crazy Sexy Cancer” lives neither up nor down to its name.
Maybe it flew too close to the sun, after all.