Be Here Now: The Andy Whitfield Story - review

by Catherine McGregor / 02 May, 2016
Andy Whitfield, the Welsh-born actor who found fame as the star of the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, is in hospital recovering from a bone marrow biopsy when we first meet him in Be Here Now. The cancer, first diagnosed and treated after the first season of Spartacus wrapped in Auckland in 2009, is back. Andy's wife Vashti is disappointed but upbeat, talking of how the family is “learning to live with cancer again”. From there on, we follow the highs and lows – sadly, there are more of the latter – of the Whitfields' cancer journey.

There will be few, especially in New Zealand, who are unaware of how the film ends, but that doesn't mean there aren't surprises along the way. That's almost entirely down to the grace and humour of Andy and Vashti, who turn a harrowing tale of living with cancer into an uplifting story of positivity and love.

If that sort of self-help talk has your eyes starting to roll, you're not alone. Going in, I was convinced Be Here Now was not for me. Director Lillibet Foster uses phrases like “manifesting destiny” in interviews; in the opening scenes, Andy speaks of “creating a space to be clear” and “running your life with intuition”. Like I say, not for me.

But then came the first surprise: it all started to make sense. Faced with the horror of a cancer that responds hardly at all to 11 rounds of chemotherapy, who wouldn't prefer to concentrate on living in the moment (“Be Here Now”)? If you could afford it, why wouldn't you travel to India to explore Ayurvedic therapies to complement your Western treatment?

 

Watch the trailer:


 

Whitfield's celebrity is the hook for Be Here Now – and the extraordinary beauty which helped make him famous adds a frisson to his physical decline – but Foster's focus is remarkably intimate. There are no interviews with Andy's directors, or fellow actors (which means, in case you're wondering, no one from the New Zealand film industry), or even his friends. Just Andy and Vashti, their two kids, and his parents, dealing with a family tragedy that remains all too familiar.

Doc Edge Film Festival: Wellington, The Roxy, May 4 (followed by a Q&A with Lilibet Foster and Vashti Whitfield) and May 14 (followed by a Q&A with Lilibet Foster); Auckland, Q Theatre, May 18 (followed by a Q&A with Lilibet Foster and Vashti Whitfield) and May 22. Book tickets.
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