Notes from the Back Row 

'If you gotta go, go with a smile'

The Joker said that, the Jack Nicholson Joker, in Tim Burton's Batman way back in 1989 but those sentiments are popping up again in Whistler this week with a special sneak peak screening of Leave Them Laughing - A Musical Comedy About Dying that's playing Monday November 30 at Buffalo Bills.

Directed by Academy Award winner (and sometimes Whistler local) John Zaritsky, Leave Them Laughing is a documentary about Carla Zilbersmith, a Canadian/Californian actress, musician and comedienne diagnosed with Lou Gerhig's Disease (ALS) a fatal nerve disorder that shuts down your muscles and organs and body while your brain remains sharp as ever, and then you die.

It's a tragic disease with no cure, yet single mom Carla and her son Maclen (a hybrid of McCartney and Lennon) tackle their hard times the best way they can with humour, bravery and zero self-pity.

Using old footage cut with stuff shot in May of this year, Zaritsky delivers a stirring film full of bad-taste humour and feel-good emotion as the deteriorating Carla sings songs celebrating life and cracks jokes in the face of death.

Most of us here, living in the snowglobe that is Whistler might not expect that a redheaded single mother in a wheelchair talking about butterflies, love, sex (she makes a "F*ck it List" rather than a Bucket List) and condoms of the world could make us re-evaluate ourselves, our lives and our families, but through Zaritsky's lens she does. Leave Them Laughing elicits empathy and humbleness yet still delivers good chuckles and entertainment.

"From the outset I wanted to do something different," Zaritsky says. "At least something I had never seen done."

Zaritsky, who spent a lot of time in Whistler making the popular National Film Board flick Ski Bums, stepped away from his regular themes and chronological filmmaking style for this picture but the results are powerful.

"I think everyone can find this film enlightening as a model of courage," he says. "But the Whistler audience, you live life to the extreme up there and I think you will relate to the idea of going laughing all the way and having fun and enjoying life to the end. I think the crowd up here will appreciate Carla's outrageousness more."

Zaritsky admits it was sometimes sad to film the daily deterioration of another human being but says Carla, who recently got "out of order" tattooed on her no-longer-functioning legs, made it easy on us all because we had so much fun with her and she had so much fun you almost lost sight that she was in such bad shape and going to die.

"You don't get to pick what happens to you in life," Carla tells her 16-year-old son in the film. "And a lot of bad shit can happen, but you do get to pick how you live moment to moment and how you choose to place those things in importance in your life."

Leave Them Laughing is not my regular type of recommendation - no hot chicks with guns - but Carla and Maclen Zilbersmith are two of the bravest characters you'll see on the screens this year.

If you do want explosions, shurikens and serious ass kicking the Village 8 opens Ninja Assassin on Friday. Plot, acting, lighting, CGI and character troubles aside, this is a ninja movie full of slicing, dicing and kicks to the face and for real ninja fans that is enough.

Also opening is the worst movie of the year, Old Dogs, starring John Travolta, Robin Williams and Seth "I-need-a-new-agent" Green. More garbage from the assholes behind Wild Hogs, this movie is considerably less funny than dying of ALS.


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