Lifetime really does roll out a “Red Carpet Movie Event” with this fact-based vidpic, a look at one doctor’s fight against breast cancer that crams in more tears — of joy as well as sadness — than three average melodramas. For Hollywood, there will be a little extra oomph in watching this story of Dr. Dennis Slamon, whose research into the life-saving anti-cancer drug Herceptin significantly benefited from the charitable help of Lilly Tartikoff and financier Ron Perelman. Earnest, emotional and cast to the hilt with cameos for actresses, “Living Proof” rises above most Lifetime movie fare.
Based on Robert Bazell’s book, the movie picks up 20 years ago, with Slamon (Harry Connick Jr.) as the under-funded UCLA oncologist pushing Her-2, an experimental treatment for a disease where the only options had basically been radical surgery or debilitating chemotherapy.
Relegated to a small university lab, a frustrated Slamon struggles to gain necessary support from the drug company backing his work. Fortunately the doctor’s wife (Paula Cale Lisbe) confides his situation to Tartikoff (Angie Harmon), whose then-husband, NBC Entertainment chief Brandon Tartikoff, was treated by Slamon for Hodgkin’s disease. She quickly turns fund-raising into a crusade, generating enough support from Perelman and their Fire and Ice Ball to launch clinical trials.
As structured by writer Vivienne Radkoff and director Dan Ireland, “Proof” attacks its subject matter with unapologetic sentimentality, while adopting a surprisingly intricate structure that weaves in stories of multiple women stricken by breast cancer, affording each individual moments. The roster includes Bernadette Peters as a mother on the verge of giving up hope; Tammy Blanchard as a younger mother (with Swoosie Kurtz as her desperate mom); and Regina King as a shop owner who begins dating after a mastectomy. For the kids, Amanda Bynes also drops in as Slamon’s research assistant.
Only some of these arcs intersect in the trials for the drug, where Slamon — depicted as beyond saintly — must make difficult choices due to the strict guidelines laid down by cautious-bordering-on-callous corporate bureaucrats (always a likely villain in such narratives) and the Food and Drug Administration. There’s also some nice camaraderie among the women patients, who are introduced as the song “Say a Little Prayer” appropriately plays in the background.
It’s that sort of movie — one without much use for subtlety — but the theme and execution should resonate strongly with those who tune in, helping promote the network’s “Stop Breast Cancer for Life” public-awareness campaign.
Lifetime movies often get a bad rap (mostly because they’re ripe for ridicule, what with the upcoming “Sex & Lies in Sin City”), but every once in awhile, they genuinely do some good by doing well.