Friday, January 7, 2011

Extraordinary Measures

At my Reading Glutton blog, I have written about John Crowley's book, Chasing Miracles: The Crowley Family Journey of Strength, Hope, and Joy, and Geeta Anand's account of the Crowley family's journey in The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million--and Bucked the Medical Establishment--in a Quest to Save His Children.  Besides having really long titles, these books tell the remarkable story of John Crowley's role, as a biotech executive, spearheading the development of a drug to treat Pompe syndrome.  I'm sure a cure or treatment would have eventually been developed, but Crowley made it happen much sooner than it ever would have, if ever.
Brendan Fraser plays Crowley, even though he's about a foot and half taller than the real Crowley.  Harrison Ford plays Dr. Robert Stonehill, the cranky, but very committed medical researcher who joins up with Crowley.
This story captures the hearts of anyone who hears it.  Geeta Anand brought it to many people's attention with her Wall Street Journal articles, which formed the basis of her book, and various media appearances spread the family's fame.  It was inevitable that their story would be made into a movie.  Extraordinary Miracles captures much of the essence of the Crowley's story, but, of course, abbreviates it and alters it in the dramatization.  A Notre Dame Law School graduate with a Harvard MBA, Crowley had the wits, the will, and the connections to carve out a lucrative place for himself in American business.  He used all of that to focus on the highest priority of his life: finding a cure for the disease that was killing his children.  (And, incidentally, became a multi-millionaire in the process!)

Give the complexity of the disease, of the business deals, and of the people affected, both in the family and in the research and business community, the story had to be greatly simplified for the movie, but they also sanitized it a bit.  Great family though they are, the movie made them seem even more happy, cheerful, and optimistic than is likely.  Not a big deal, but it robs the Crowleys of their humanity, giving Extraordinay Measures a Lifetime Channel movie of the week fairy tale feel, cheapening a great story.  And this is a minor quibble, but why did they move the research facility from Oklahoma to Nebraska?  Did OU refuse to cooperate?  Did the state of Nebraska bribe them to do so?

Quibbles aside, Extraordinary Measures brings the Crowley's story to a much wider audience than the books or WSJ articles could.  More than that, it brings attention to the importance of research for rare diseases.  The drug companies may not deem it cost-effective to research cures for diseases that affect a very small number of patients.  The Crowleys remind us that we don't have to sit around and wait for a cure; even an ordinary guy like John Crowley with no medical background can make something extraordinary happen.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

No comments: