Though prone to making points explicitly via unnecessary narration, So Much So Fast is, by and large, that atypical documentary in which heartfelt sympathy and respect for its beleaguered subjects is wielded not for cheap emotional manipulation but, rather, in the service of greater understanding. Having lost a family matriarch to ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1993, married filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan set out to chronicle the similarly unfortunate plight of Stephen Heywood, a handsome, well-off 29-year-old diagnosed with the paralyzing neurological disease, as well as that of his brother Jamie, a visionary with no medical expertise who quit his job to find a cure for his brother.
Shot over five years and with apparent all-access, Ascher and Jordan’s poignant and often humorous portrait covers two perspectives of this tragic equation, detailing with intimacy and admiration not only the resolutely upbeat Stephen’s deterioration—an inexorable development that doesn’t prevent him from marrying, having a son, and continuing to work as an architect and play online video games with his two siblings—but also the feisty, headstrong Jamie’s efforts to establish a “guerilla science” foundation intent on circumventing the medical establishment’s paltry, apathetic funding of drug research for the rare and fatal condition.
Despite an obvious affectionate bias, the directors never allow their close proximity to Stephen and Jamie to insincerely interfere with their reportage, with frank confrontations of, among other topics, Stephen’s sexual emasculation and Jamie’s crumbling personal life contributing to their tale’s bracing warts-and-all openness. More impressive still is their conveyance of myriad themes through uncontrived moments: Stephen being spoon-fed shortly after Jamie’s infant daughter has had a bottle; an image of Jamie struck silent while testing a homemade computer-mouse contraption built specially for his muscularly weakened brother; the sight of a corporeally crumbling Stephen working to renovate his new house.
So Much So Fast addresses the miracle of parenthood, time’s fleetingness, the shortcomings of modern medical protocol, and the lack of protection afforded by wealth and privilege simply by focusing its benevolent gaze on the increasingly slack countenance of Stephen (forced to use technology to communicate and, later, to breathe) and the harried eyes of Jamie (who, on the brink of divorce and driving his controversial foundation into the ground, confesses, “I am aware that I am insane”). The result is a nonfiction film that seems effortlessly profound and, in its inconclusive finale (in which Stephen’s fate is left unremarked upon), proves touchingly, optimistically defiant even in the face of unalterable misfortune.