You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The C Word’

Though it covers medically contentious ground, Meghan LaFrance O'Hara's highly personal cancer doc makes a persuasive plea for better self-care.

David Servan-Schreiber, Meghan LaFrance O'Hara, Morgan Freeman (narrator).

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5212792/?ref_=nv_sr_3

“It’s time to stop being afraid of cancer — it’s time for cancer to be afraid of us.” Lent a warm sense of authority by the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman, this aphorism encapsulates the upbeat, constructive tone of Meghan LaFrance O’Hara’s documentary “The C Word,” an impassioned advocation of preventative cancer treatment that brazenly counters the methods of Big Pharma. Unapologetically subjective and plainly from the heart, the film is personally rooted in O’Hara’s own battle with the disease, though it’s another cancer warrior who emerges as its primary hero: French physician David Servan-Schreiber, whose vocal campaigning for integrative oncology divided the medical community and, according to the filmmaker, gave her a new lease on life. If “The C Word” finally plays as an extended PSA for Servan-Schreiber’s theories — with Freeman’s narration bringing a particularly advisory tone to proceedings — it’s still a sprightly one that should find its largest and most engaged audience through VOD channels.

Mere months before being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2008, O’Hara received an Oscar nomination as the producer of Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” a brasher, more aggressive jab at the American healthcare system. With its warm help-me-help-you spirit, “The C Word” (O’Hara’s first directorial venture) could hardly be more different in tone from Moore’s film, but it’s similarly skeptical of existing national institutions and the accepted wisdom they promote. That said, some viewers may have more questions than others regarding the film’s ardently expressed faith in the findings and teachings of Servan-Schreiber, whom O’Hara (who sporadically shares narrating duties with Freeman) describes as “the scientist, the patient and the doctor all rolled into one.”

Having been given months to live following the discovery of a malignant brain tumor in his early thirties, Servan-Schreiber went on to survive another 20 years — first through surgery, though following the tumor’s recurrence, he set about developing his controversial “anticancer” method. Focused less on combating cancer cells than strengthening the bodies resistance to them, “anticancer” is built on four rather simple tenets: nutrition, exercise, stress management and the avoidance of toxins. (Though this philosophy fits right into the currently fashionable, occasionally precious discourse on “wellness,” Servan-Schreiber is refreshingly plainspoken in articulating it.)

His principles aren’t in themselves particularly startling: It goes without saying that eating healthily and engaging in physical activity are essential pointers for anyone, with or without cancer. But the Frenchman’s testing-backed insistence on them as a universal defense against the disease has been derided as “well-meaning tosh” by some medical experts. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, O’Hara’s film invites sympathy as it takes healthcare institutions to task for failing even to promote such standards of healthy living: In one droll but pointed aside, a young cancer patient expresses his befuddlement at being served a sloppy joe in hospital immediately after his operation.

“The C Word” gains conviction as it expands its argument beyond the medical realm to take on the big-business entities abetting the toxic unhealthiness of the American lifestyle with chemically unregulated products and addictive foodstuffs crammed with sugar and additives. The public backlash to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to place restrictions on soda servings is ruefully referenced: “Standing up for the right to hurt yourself,” as O’Hara puts it, is an American liberty of debatable virtue. The film suggests, however, that change is afoot. Among the wealth of experts in the film’s talking-head gallery is Don Barrett, the Mississippi trial lawyer who famously took on Big Tobacco on behalf of the state in 1990s; he has his righteous sights set on the food industry next.

Content takes precedence over form in O’Hara’s stylistically shaggy filmmaking, which nonetheless moves at a fair clip thanks to a trio of editors’ brisk meshing of new interviews, archive material and roughly stylized animation sequences. (Sporadic pop-oriented cutaways, whether to Jim Gaffigan standup riffs or decontextualized sitcom snippets, add a smart-alecky note that the film doesn’t necessarily need.) Musical selections are lively throughout, with The Faces’ 1973 hit “Ooh La La” — with its famous “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger” refrain — aptly reflecting the film’s prevention-minded combination of hopefulness and regret over the closing credits.

Film Review: 'The C Word'

Reviewed online, London, Dec. 12, 2016. (In Cleveland, Traverse City, Doc NYC festivals.) Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An Abramorama release of a Zorro and Me production in association with Honest Engine, Impact Partners, Revelations Entertainment. Produced by Meghan LaFrance O'Hara, Pascaline Servan-Schreiber, Lori McCreary. Executive producers, Morgan Freeman, Dan Cogan, Diana Barrett, Regina K. Scully. Co-producer, Nick McKinney. Co-executive producers, Jim Swartz, Susan Swartz.

Crew: Directed, written by Meghan LaFrance O'Hara. Camera (color), Topaz Adizes, Nelson Hume. Editors, Brian Gunnar Cole, Francisco Bello, Lorian James Delman.

With: David Servan-Schreiber, Meghan LaFrance O'Hara, Morgan Freeman (narrator).

More Film

  • Come as You Are review

    SXSW Film Review: 'Come as You Are'

    The rare remake that’s actually a slight improvement on its predecessor, Richard Wong’s “Come as You Are” translates Geoffrey Enthoven’s 2011 Belgian “Hasta la Vista” to middle America. Other changes are less substantial, but this seriocomedy has a less formulaic feel than the original while remaining a crowd-pleasing buddy pic-caper with a soft-pedaled minority empowerment [...]

  • Strange Negotiations review

    SXSW Film Review: 'Strange Negotiations'

    In a era when some mainstream entertainers have transitioned to targeting faith-based audiences, David Bazan is moving in the other direction. The gifted songwriter’s ersatz band Pedro the Lion was perhaps the most successful Christian indie rock act of its time, and the first to significantly cross over to secular fans. Then he ditched that persona (and [...]

  • Bluebird review

    SXSW Film Review: ‘Bluebird’

    As affectionate as a love letter but as substantial as an infomercial, Brian Loschiavo’s “Bluebird” may be of most interest to casual and/or newly converted country music fans who have occasionally wondered about the songwriters behind the songs. There’s a better than even-money chance that anyone who’s a loyal and longtime aficionado of the musical [...]

  • ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad

    ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending for the Fourth Week in a Row

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the fourth week in row with “Wonder Park.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.18 million through Sunday for 1,718 national [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan Jordan Vogt-Roberts

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan, Jordan Vogt-Roberts Team for Monster Movie

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan is producing a creature feature, billiards champ Cisero Murphy is getting a movie, the sixth Terminator movie gets a title, and Graham King receives an honor. PROJECT UNVEILED More Reviews SXSW Film Review: 'Come as You Are' SXSW Film Review: 'Strange Negotiations' New Regency and Michael B. [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Nicolas Cage to Star in Martial Arts Actioner 'Jiu Jitsu'

    Nicolas Cage will star in the martial arts actioner “Jiu Jitsu,” based on the comic book of the same name. The cast will also include Alain Moussi, who stars in the “Kickboxer” franchise. Dimitri Logothetis is producing with Martin Barab and directing from a script he wrote with Jim McGrath. Highland Film Group is handling [...]

  • Chinese success of Thai film "Bad

    Chinese, Thai Shingles Pact for Co-Production Fund at FilMart

    A deal to establish a 100 million yuan ($14.9 million) co-production fund between China and Thailand was struck at FilMart on Tuesday to help launch TV and film projects that will appeal to Chinese and Southeast Asian audience. The deal that was struck by China’s Poly Film Investment Co., TW Capital from Thailand and Thai [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content