The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Decoding Annie Parker

Odds are almost certain that you know someone who has battled breast cancer. Hopefully you know someone who survived it. The disease has affected the lives of millions of women, but it's also something that affects their spouses, partners, children, and friends. Fortunately, great strides have been made in treating breast cancer, giving many women a fighting chance against it. The drama Decoding Annie Parker looks at one of the most significant discoveries in the battle against breast cancer, as well as one woman's defiant struggle against it.

Samantha Morton plays Annie, a woman who lost both parents and a sister to the disease. When she herself is diagnosed with breast cancer, she starts to believe that it's no accident. In fact, she states that she thinks it's practically stalking her family. With the help of a young doctor (Corey Stoll) and a former oncology nurse (Rashida Jones), Annie begins researching possible reasons why multiple people in a family would contract it. Her obsession begins to cause a rift with her husband (Aaron Paul). Meanwhile, the film also follows Dr. Mary-Claire King (Helen Hunt), a geneticist who theorizes that there might be a genetic mutation that causes breast cancer. She fights a medical establishment that thinks she's tilting windmills. With her crack team, King studies the family medical histories of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, plus starts looking for genetic markers. Annie writes repeatedly to Dr. King, hoping to meet. Eventually they do.

It spoils nothing to say that this is a true story, and Mary-Claire King is noted for identifying the BRCA1 gene that is widely considered one of the most significant medical discoveries of the 20th century. She also showed that cancer in general has a hereditary aspect.

Decoding Annie Parker is compelling because it tells the story from two different perspectives. Most movies would have told it only from Mary-Claire King's. Although the two women don't meet until the very end, director Steven Bernstein cuts back and forth between their stories in a way that makes them feel very connected. The essence of the film is that Annie represents the anecdotal, while Dr. King represents the scientific. Both women are operating under the same belief, and there is a strong suggestion that, by being willing to cooperate in the study, women like Annie were invaluable in allowing King to make her important discovery.

Samantha Morton gives a brilliant, haunting performance as Annie, imbuing the character with a palpable fear of - and anger toward - the disease. The actress emphasizes the idea that Annie knows in her gut that cancer has blown a path of destruction through her family like a tornado, and she doesn't want to be the next victim. Morton's sensitive but fierce work gives Decoding Annie Parker real heart and soul. Helen Hunt is also very good. She's always been an actress capable of projecting intelligence and determination, and those qualities are well utilized here. Hunt is very believable as a scientist, avoiding overt dramatics in favor of an appropriately analytic approach to Mary-Claire King. In other words, she acts just like you'd expect a real scientist to act: focused, intense, occasionally frustrated but dogged in the pursuit of a goal. Aaron Paul and Rashida Jones are standouts among the supporting cast, with both helping to flesh out Annie's journey.

Decoding Annie Parker obviously has great interest due to its fact-based story. As captivating as it often is, the film could have used more expansion on King's side. She gets less screen time than Annie, and the investigations she does are often breezed through somewhat rapidly. With a 95-minute running time, there was room to further develop the character, as well as to show some more specifics of her research. Doing so would have strengthened the film overall. And while the eventual meeting between the two main characters is affecting, it's also very brief, coming only in the movie's final minutes. We're left wishing there was a bit more to it.

On balance, though, there's plenty here to carry Decoding Annie Parker over a few imperfections. Morton does some of the best work of her career, and the story of how Mary-Claire King's research gave hope to women everywhere is powerful stuff. This is a film that leaves you with a deep appreciation for the fighters of the world, as well as the individuals who tirelessly work to eradicate a disease we'd all like to see vanish forever.

( out of four)

Decoding Annie Parker is rated R for language and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.