Review: 39 Pounds of Love

The film comes off like a cursory sketch rather than a full-bodied portrait.

39 Pounds of Love
Photo: Balcony Releasing

Born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), Ami Ankilewitz was given six years to live but nonetheless remains vibrantly alive at age 34, and Dani Menkin’s 39 Pounds of Love tracks the wheelchair-bound Ami as he endeavors, despite weighing 39 pounds and only having control of his left index finger, to confront the doctor who predicted his demise. Originally from Texas but now living in Tel Aviv, Ami, despite his disability, speaks three languages, works as a computer animator, enjoys drinking Jack Daniels with his friends, and dreams of riding a motorcycle (he even sports a Harley Davidson arm tattoo). On his 34th birthday, Ami decides, much to his parents’ horrified objections, to meet the doctor whose dire prognosis continues to motivate him to persevere, enlisting best friend (and former medical aid) Asaf to help him make the journey to America and, once there, from California to San Antonio in an RV. Ami’s quest is one of self-realization, and Menkin’s documentary plays up the dichotomy between Ami’s uniquely frail body and his familiar, ordinary desires for self-expression and love (for his Romanian caretaker Christina). The latter of these longings is gratingly conveyed through the juxtaposition of Ami’s interactions with Christina and his computer-animated movie about a lovesick bird, yet this amorous subplot is a thread soon dropped as Ami and Asaf embark on their dangerous cross-country tour, including stops at the Grand Canyon (where Ami faints and must be rushed to a hospital) and at his estranged brother’s suburban home (where reconciliation is achieved). Ami’s life is a tribute to the indefatigable human spirit, his confession that “I live with death by my side” a haunting articulation of the precariousness of his existence. The crudely shot, disappointingly thin 39 Pounds of Love, however, routinely raises more questions than it answers. How does Ami survive at such a shockingly meager weight? How has the family shouldered the medical costs and responsibilities of Ami’s condition? How did he get into computer animation? As a result, the film comes off like a cursory sketch rather than a full-bodied portrait.

 Cast: Ami Ankilewitz  Director: Dani Menkin  Screenwriter: Dani Menkin, Ilan Heitner  Distributor: Balcony Releasing  Running Time: 74 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2005  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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