If the only film about a teenage girl with cancer you’ve seen recently is The Fault in Our Stars, get ready for a new and stranger heartbreak.
Reggie, the subject of the documentary Farewell to Hollywood, also wields the camera. Her collaborator is Henry Corra, an experienced director who specializes in “living cinema,” an intimate style of documentary that blurs divisions between filmmaker and subject. Henry and Reggie quickly become close, and their shared love of filmmaking and each other is the engine of this bizarre and wonderful doc that’s pitched like a home movie but crafted with fine, poignant sensibilities.
Reggie’s parents do not take kindly to the project. Imagine losing control over your adolescent daughter as adulthood kicks in; now imagine losing her to cancer and an unusual friendship with a much older man at the same time. Reggie’s parents are demanding and emotionally immature, but it’s hard not to empathize with them. Losing control is terrifying; in one scene, Reggie gathers clumps of cropped brown hair from her scalp, weeping. The cancer and the chemo cause her body to betray her from the inside.
But Reggie won’t quit. She wears a long blond wig and lipstick, smirks at the camera, and asks with a level gaze, “Would you fuck me?” She goes to Sea World and flaunts a bikini and bald head. When she turns eighteen, Reggie leaves her parents’ house, and when she knows she’ll die, she returns to tell them what she thinks.
Henry finishes the film without her, and the messy product is a deeply human reminder that there’s plenty of beauty around us right now.