The Bright Side: Funny and thoughtful drama
James R | On 16, May 2022
Director: Ruth Meehan
Cast: Gemma-Leah Devereux, Siobhan Cullen, Derbhle Crotty, Barbara Brennan, Karen Egan, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Kevin McGahern
I’ve Got Cancer, What’s Your Excuse? is the bluntly effective title of Anne Gildea’s bestselling memoir. The Bright Side may come in a softer package, but this comedy-drama inspired by Gildea’s book is just as unflinching
The film follows Kate (Gemma-Leah Devereux), a stand-up comedian who’s in her 30s and not seeing much point in making it to her 40s. When she gets diagnosed with cancer, she thinks of it as an easy way out, only agreeing to go through chemotherapy at the behest of her brother (Kevin McGahern). As she undergoes treatment, though, she also finds herself surrounded by other women also dealing with the same thing, and the result brings her a sense of support and hope that was previously missing.
Gemma-Leah Devereux, who wowed as Liza Minnelli in 2019’s Judy, is fantastic, playing Kate with unwavering, heartfelt commitment. She captures Kate’s weary, jaded outlook on life with a bitter cynicism, which feeds into her presence on the stand-up stage too. What unfolds is a nuanced, sensitive study of depression and, specifically, the way that comedy can be a crutch to help people get through a crisis.
Director Ruth Meehan, who co-wrote the script with Jean Palsey, delicately balances the poignant drama with genuine humour, but also explores the way that humour can be a defence mechanism, and the film’s emotional impact comes from seeing Kate learn to lower those defences and open up to friendship with a warm ensemble – including Tracy (Siobhán Cullen), Fiona (Karen Egan), Róisín (Barbara Brennan) and Helen (Derbhle Crotty). That’s echoed by her growing chemistry with the always-excellent Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Rialto, Avengers: Infinity War), but the weight is on the everyday strength found in this group of women – a fly fishing weekend, in particular, is a beautifully observed outing. The result is a thoughtful, funny and moving story that rings with personal truth.
This review was originally published during the 2021 Edinburgh International Film Festival.