Film features med-mal case

July 26, 2010
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IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger wrote this blog post.

The Indianapolis International Film Festival wrapped up its seventh series of independent local, national, and international films Sunday with screenings of award winners and audience favorites.

It was no surprise “A Little Help” won the Grand Jury Prize and Best American Spectrum Feature because of the high production quality, characters, story line, and acting, including Fort Wayne native Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam Beesly on “The Office.”

But it was also intriguing how the film portrayed Fischer’s character, Laura, and her interactions with her lawyer on a pending medical malpractice lawsuit. Her husband died of a heart arrhythmia the doctor misdiagnosed as anxiety after the husband lied to his doctor about cheating on Laura while she was in the examination room.

Early on in the film, it’s obvious that Laura isn’t in the best place in life. Her family gives her a hard time for drinking a few beers after work and smoking cigarettes. At one point her mom blames Laura for letting herself go, which is possibly the reason for her husband’s late hours in the office that Laura suspects aren’t entirely work-related. As a side note, Fischer wasn’t modified in anyway to look like she was down on her luck and basically looks like “Pam” from the office, making the “let herself go” comments from her husband and mother seem inappropriate at best, and despicable at worst.

But compared to other movies featuring widows who are also single moms, she’s not entirely down on her luck – she has what appears to be a steady job as a dental hygienist somewhere in or near her Long Island home, she has a reliable car, she seems to have a decent relationship with her young son, and her parents have offered to pay for private school tuition even though she and her son would have preferred for him to stay in public school (his new school leads to a 9/11-related plot twist that is interesting, but has nothing to do with the lawsuit).

It’s also her family’s perception of her that comes into play in the scenes with her lawyer and scenes with her sister.

Laura is at first unaware that the attorney is, in fact, a litigator when she meets with him to go over her financial paperwork after her husband dies. So when the lawyer tells her she should be OK, he means after a settlement or trial she’ll be financially OK.

Even though Laura is iffy on even pursuing a lawsuit – citing that her husband possibly lied to the doctor so as not to admit he was cheating her, which possibly led to the misdiagnosis of his heart condition as anxiety instead of arrhythmia – the lawyer and her sister insist she continue.

Her sister also at one point asks her how the lawsuit is going, even though she said she had spoken with the lawyer at a party and already knew the depositions were almost over, more than Laura knew or seemed to care to know at that point.

The lawyer does a few other ethically questionable things in the movie when it comes to how he handles the case, but I don’t want to give everything away as the film will, hopefully, receive a wider release after its run on the festival circuit. Or it will likely at least be available via Netflix or a cable movie channel at some point.

If you happened to catch this at the festival, did you have any thoughts about the film or the portrayal of the attorney character? Do you think the way this lawyer, and others, are portrayed on film as not letting their clients make their own decisions is realistic or fair?

 

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