Julia Sweeney performs on film the dramatic monologue that she wrote and performed "live" on stage. The period of her life on which she focuses are the nine months of her brother's dying, when he and her parents moved into her home--an idyllic bungalow that she had set up for herself, following her recent divorce. Instead of having the opportunity to enjoy the freedom of being single again, she is thrust into the thicket of family relationships, the sadness of her brother's poor health, and the demands made by his treatment for lymphoma.

Her parents, she says, have always been for her a "source of comedy, or a reason to be in therapy." These are the resources Sweeney is able to tap as she comments with humor and insight on living like a child in her own home, as her mother takes over the household and bickers with her father, who is drinking too much. But even as she jokes about the clash in lifestyles between herself and her parents (after all, she hasn't lived with them for 16 years), she weaves into the narrative the nature of life with her brother, whom she accompanies for his daily radiation treatments and whom she ministers to as he undergoes chemotherapy.

While not minimizing the seriousness of her brother's illness, she (as well as he) can find the surreal humor in their medical encounters. Thus Julia Sweeney describes how, when scar tissue prevents further injection into his spinal fluid and the doctors recommend a brain "shunt" for that purpose, assuring them that other patients "love their shunts," brother Mike not only agrees to the procedure, but adopts the slogan, "I love my shunt" for every conceivable situation.

The surreal becomes the real when Julia learns that she too has cancer--a rare form of cervical cancer that will require a hysterectomy. Even as she describes her shock and horror at this new blow, Sweeney takes comfort in Mike's sense of humor: he accuses her of getting even with him for taking "the cancer spotlight." Her narration of picking up her own pathology slides and of making the decision not to have her ova ("eggs") harvested and fertilized are both funny and poignant.


Sweeney's ability to interweave humor and sorrow, understanding and exasperation, the incomprehensible and the inevitable is remarkable. She is never maudlin or self-pitying but rather presents a convincing picture of a relationship and an experience that was fully lived and fully perceived. Creation and delivery of the monologue must in and of itself have been part of the healing process; in sharing her perceptions and interpretations, the audience gains as well.

Primary Source

Buena Vista Home Entertainment