Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: James Keach
Screenwriter: James Keach
Cast: David Foster, Mari Winsor, Augie Nieto, Austin Nieto, Lynne Nieto, Steve Perrin, Lindsay Nieto, Scott McFarlane, Pat Fuscoe
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/9/18
Opens: March 16, 2018
In his book “The Human Predicament,” David Benatar essentially reiterates Socrates’ statement that it’s better not to be born. Benatar believes that on balance, the pain of living cancels out the pleasures. He is talking not only of the daily hassles we go through but of course the dreaded problem of disease. There may be no disease more tragic than ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, with a cure that may depend on increasing research funding. The disease assaults the muscles month after month, year after year, until the sick people can do nothing more than more their eyes. Its most celebrated victim, Stephen Hawking, died this week after living some fifty years since the diagnosis.
Augie, or Augustino Nieto, was diagnosed at age 47, a horrific disease that fells ten percent of people from congenital reasons and the other ninety percent for causes about which nobody knows. Psychologically the illness must have been exceptionally tragic because it paralyzed a man who spent most of his working life in the fitness business, specifically through entrepreneurship inventing Lifecycle, the bicycle known by fitness enthusiasts the world over, eventually selling the business to Brunswick making him a wealthy man. Consider the irony: a man slated to enjoy his wealth and his superb, muscular body is now unable to move. Hence, this documentary.
He has a lovely and charming and dedicated wife, Lynne Nieto, who spend considerable time in James Keach’s film discussing the disease and what it’s like to take charge of his care—hiring several people to watch over him throughout the days particularly one Filipino woman who explains that in the culture she brought over to the States, she believes in caring for people.
James Keach has an impressive résumé as an actor as well as director, including a performance in, of all things, “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” a joyful look at the pleasures of healthy youth. This documentary is filled with talking heads, namely people from his extended family and the physicians who describe ALS and make specific reference to Augie’s love of life. Nonetheless, as the movie begins, Augie tells a gag about a man about to commit suicide from losing the use of an arm but, looking out the window he sees a man happily skipping along though that fellow had no arms at all. “You saved my life,” he tells the man, running down the stairs; in other words, there is always someone worse off than you, and if that person has overcome his handicap, so can you. (Some of the self-help books on happiness, we might add, advise us that when you become handicapped, you may consider ending it all, but that surprisingly, as time goes by, you accept your limitations and can wind up even happier than a fully-functioning person.)
Augie and his wife Lynne used their contacts in the fitness business in the so-called Augie Quest to Cure ALS, raising over $60 million for research. Until now, virtually nothing has come through the pipelines toward a cure, but recently a drug has entered clinical trials that could slow down the progress of the disease.
If a guy sitting around a four hundred pound chair and with tubes that connect him to life wants to survive, he serves as an inspiration to everyone, especially for those who think they would not want to continue living if they had any disease that robs them of their capacity to be independent. The documentary does not feature much if anything in the way of special effects of Michael-Moore type ironic comedy, but it does expose us to scores of people in the medical fields and high finance that are inspired by Augie’s spirit to push hard to find a cure or at least some incremental progress.
Unrated. 84 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+