It’s hard to imagine that a movie about Alzheimer’s could be realistic and uplifting, but A Short History of Decay, by first-time writer/director Michael Maren, manages both. This indy film, arriving in theaters today, explores the ripple effect of the disease on the sufferer’s partner, grown children and friends, all the while encouraging viewers to empathize, laugh and cry. In the end, this is a movie not so much about a devastating illness that affects memory, thinking and behavior, but about family ties, and how they endure in the best and worst of circumstances.
A Short History of Decay centers on Nathan Fisher (played by Bryan Greenberg of Friends With Benefits and Bride Wars), a 30-something struggling writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. He gets double blows one day when his ambitious girlfriend, frustrated with his lack of success, dumps him, and his brother calls from Florida to say their father has been hospitalized with a stroke, brought on in part by the stress of caring for their mother, who’s suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. Nathan, who’s always played second fiddle to his successful big brother Jack (Benjamin King of Lethal Weapon 4), flies to Florida to help, and discovers that he’s able to connect with his mother (terrifically cast in Linda Lavin) in ways he never has before. His father, played by the intriguing character actor Harris Yulin, is, on the other hand, short-tempered and impatient—though that’s not entirely new.
Linda Lavin and Bryan Greenburg in a scene from A Short History of Decay
The film gets especially interesting when Jack returns to his parents’ home and reveals that his life is not as much of a walk in the park as it appears. And when Nathan begins a friendship with the woman who does his Mom’s nails, you cheer that this underdog finally appears to be catching a break.
Maren manages to imbue A Short History of Decay with touchstones. Even if you haven’t witnessed a family member’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, you can relate to the changes that occur in relations between parents, children and siblings over time. You can understand what it’s like to go home again. You can learn how an individual can find “a new normal” by facing life’s challenges, and dealing with them.
Photo courtesy of Big Fan Films