Disney+ film review: Clouds
James R | On 24, Oct 2020
Director: James Baldoni
Cast: Fin Argus, Neve Campbell, Sabrina Carpenter, Madison Iseman
Watch Clouds online in the UK: Disney+
“We’ll go up, up, up, But I’ll fly a little higher. Go up in the clouds because the view’s a little nicer, Up here my dear. It won’t be long now, it won’t be long now.”
Those are the words to Zach Sobiech’s Clouds, a song that was released in 2012 and has since been downloaded millions times – thousands of those before Zach passed away from osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, and hundreds of thousands after. Its upbeat message tugged the heartstrings of people the world over, as Zach took his diagnosis and remained determined to smile, and sing, through it.
Now, that story gets the Disney treatment with this moving, tear-jerking drama, which follows the final months of Zach’s life. Played by newcomer actor-musician Fin Argus, he’s a likeable, sincere figure, and Argus captures a stoic resilience behind his laughing charisma; he’s liable to snap at people during his tougher moments, but also processes his condition through a remarkable sense of humour.
Argus is supported by a commendably understated cast, from Neve Campbell as his concerned but encouraging mother, Laura (whose memoir is the basis of the script), to Tom Everett Scott as Rob, his father, who has been somewhat distant since Zach’s diagnosis. Madison Iseman is charmingly heartfelt as Amy, Zach’s on-off girlfriend, who is asked out by Zach in his move to make the most of his final months, while Sabrina Carpenter is superb as Sammy Brown, Zach’s best friend who never leaves his side.
But while there’s a sweetness to all of these relationships – with occasional glimpses of darkness, just enough to stop things becoming saccharine – Clouds’ success is the way that it balances the human drama with Zach’s musical legacy. His songwriting, particularly his creative collaboration with Sammy Brown, is brilliantly depicted, from their sessions recording guitar licks at home to their amazement at getting a record deal – thanks to their supportive teacher Milton (Lil Rel Howery, just the right shade of nerdy).
Director James Baldoni, who also made a short documentary about Sobiech, strikes a gentle key balanced between sentimental and mawkish and between tragedy and comedy. He includes the religious background central to Laura’s memoir, but leans less into the family trip to Lourdes and more into the swooning romance and immediately simple perspective of his teen protagonist. We may not get much in the way of characterisation for Zach’s siblings, for example, but the unspoken moment where Zach and one of his sisters sit on the sofa watching the telly is utterly heartbreaking.
The result not only celebrates Zach’s remarkable outlook on life, but roots itself in the heartwarming message contained in his viral pop hit – a crowd sequence where they sing the song back at home will have you grinning through floods of tears. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to his inspiring story.
Clouds is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.