The Bottom Line: "It's gonna be ok, It's gonna be alright, Tomorrow is a new day Oh, you see it in a new light." ~Anders Osborne / Joshua Ragsdale
I had the pleasure of viewing The Brooke Ellison Story today which was the final piece directed by Christopher Reeve. The movie was developed from the novel by Brooke & Jean Ellison and details her life in the intervening years after she was injured at age 11 and left a quadriplegic.
By all accounts, the Ellison family was a middle-of-the road family living out the American dream. Ed Ellison worked for the Social Security Department, Jean Ellison was a school teacher. Like most families today, their children held active lives involved in various after school activities. Reed, the middle child, played a variety of sports; Kysten, the oldest child was involved in Karate; Brooke in dance and musical related things.
The opening scenes of the movie show an average life with parents hustling off in the morning to work and children with lackluster attitudes going off to school. There was the general sibling chatter, mild arguments that really didn’t mean anything more than they loved each other. However, on this day, everything would change.
Brooke, kinda geeky and wanting ‘to belong’ didn’t follow her planned schedule of catching the school bus home and instead took off with a bunch of classmates, racing to beat the bus. How the accident happened is never really explained, all we know is that Brooke is in a coma and not expected to survive. However, her family refused to give up and refused to let the doctors loose hope. She finally did recover from the coma but was now a quadriplegic and living by means of a ventilator.
The story progresses along, showing all the hardships the family encountered just trying to let Brooke live a normal life. Even the smallest thing like returning to school became a major roadblock and then it all blew out of proportion when she got a letter from Harvard inviting her to become one of their honored students.
One thing I really liked was how it showed the entire family dynamic and how it affected each member from the onset. With so much attention focused on one child, the others sometimes felt abandoned, Kysten more so than Reed. It also showed a lot of the financial information and the endless reams of red tape one has to face to fight ‘the system’.
Another thing that was covered was the relationship between Brooke and Jean, not always pretty, and they didn’t mind showing all sides of it as well as all sides of how Brooke felt during this time frame. You must remember that she needed constant supervision which required that Jean attend all classes with her, including her college courses. This meant that for, at least during college years, Jean was absent from the home for an entire quarter at a time.
Lacey Chabert did a remarkable portrayal as Brooke Ellison. I can’t possibly imagine how it must have been to be in what wheelchair for most of her scenes. I would think it would make her share some bond with the real Brooke. She carried the role with firm resolve and quiet dignity.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio played Jean Ellison, often appearing exhausted and tired as would be fitting for the real-life Jean. She was also a fierce lion protecting her cub and feeling each setback and pain the child suffered. Mary Elizabeth gave the part almost a peacefulness.
Although I sort of understand the idea Reeves was trying to accomplish - that the disabled can achieve and survive - it was almost portrayed in this movie as practically perfect. Certainly we are aware that Brooke must have fought many tireless battles and overcome giant obstacles, but we are given hardly any insight to these. In the end, when she graduates from college, it almost seems anticlimactic because we simply expected it to happen. It is my only small point with the film. Not that I wished to be voyeuristic and see her most personal and trying times, just a bit of insight into the fact of exactly what she had to overcome to appreciate where she ended up.
And where, exactly, did Brooke end up? In 2000 she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. She went on to get her Masters degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In 2006 she ran for New York State Senate. Now she is a public and motivational speaker. You can follow her accomplishments on her website:
This film carries a PG rating for thematic elements and language. It was nominated for 3 awards, winning two. Overall it was an interesting and enlightening story telling of survival but a few warts would have made it much better.
DVD extras include: extensive interview with the real Brooke Ellison and her family; deleted scenes.
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Susi Dawson (SusiDee34)
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Based on the true life story of Brooke Ellison, this moving drama was directed for A&E by Christopher Reeve, and was the last film he made before his tragic and untimely death. Lacey Chabert (MEAN GIRLS) stars as the title character, who at the age of 11 was hit by a car, an accident that would change the life of the previously active child. Suffering severe head trauma and an injury to her spinal cord, Lacey was not expected to survive, yet she emerged from the hospital triumphant and determined to live a life that was as close to normal as possible. Returning to school, Lacey was accompanied every day by her mother, Jean (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, THE PERFECT STORM, MY LIFE SO FAR), who attended classes with her daughter throughout her accomplished academic career. Lacey ultimately graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, and delivered a heart wrenching and inspiring speech to commemorate the occasion. This is a warm family saga about the strength of the mother-daughter bond, and the power...