Thursday, July 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Meet Me Where I Am’ Opens Up The Conversation


Directors: Grant Garry
Writers: Grant Garry
Stars: Anthony Rapp, John Farley, Cynthia O’Neal

Synopsis: Meet Me Where I Am explores the topic of grief through individual stories of loss, love, and hope. The film aims to normalize grief in our culture and explores how we can actively participate in helping others through grief.


Grief is, perhaps, the most important topic that almost nobody talks about. It is a fact of life that we will all go through it and, eventually, be the source of it for people we love. And yet, it feels impossible to grasp. It is an important topic to not only broach, but to delve into deeply. Grief is difficult to talk about for many reasons, and maybe the most important is that it is more cyclical than it is linear. Many intelligent people have spoken about this in a clinical, scholarly way but precious few have made it truly personal. The new documentary, Meet Me Where I Am, attempts to make things a little easier on all of us in our most difficult moments. 

This is a documentary for those who are terrified to talk about their grief and pain. And let’s be honest, that is a big audience. In western culture especially, we are taught that there is a right way to process loss. The film points this out in the discussion of The Stages of Grief from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. Many of us, either through education or internet research, are aware of this, but not of the actual path. The movie makes it clear that these stages are not distinct, or even necessarily in order. Rather, they are experiences that many people who grieve tend to go through.

Luckily, the film is not entirely scholastic. It also focuses on real details of intense loss that range across the life course and type of death. It also features at least a few people who are very used to talking in front of a camera. Anthony Rapp, star of the Broadway musical and feature film, Rent, details the loss of both Jonathan Larson (creator of Rent) and his mother. The most moving moments of the entire documentary are between Rapp and Cynthia O’Neal, who met through their grief. While Rapp was dealing with his mother’s illness, Larson recommended he attend a support group called “Friend in Deed.” This group was founded by O’Neal, as she dealt with her husband’s death from cancer. The two have formed a lifelong friendship, and their care and consideration for one another is gentle, aware, and apparent.

But there are many other stories to be told throughout the documentary. The hardest to watch is a pair of older parents, whose daughter was murdered. Watching the two look at old photographs and talk about their loss is difficult to process. It feels almost too intimate, but there is a sense of honor in watching their brutal honesty about this unfathomable loss. It also feels important to meet them now, where they are, and not immediately following the incident. There is a grace inherent in their experience, along with honesty about their appropriate level of anger. 

The documentary, written and directed by Grant Garry, is remarkably well balanced. A discussion about grief from both the scholarly and persona angles is tremendously difficult. He manages this by not only involving experts, but asking them to tell their stories of personal grief. This allows us not only a view into what grief is, but also the myriad of ways that it can be experienced and expressed. What happens when a grief researcher loses a child? How does it impact a future expert in the field when they endure the loss of a sibling? If grief is different for everyone, how do we help others? Importantly, the film also focuses on what not to do. As people supporting loved ones, what we say is more important than we imagine. So, it can be helpful to not simply offer platitudes, which involves undoing decades of cultural training.

Meet Me Where I Am is an important starting point for dealing with an issue that is truly unavoidable. It starts the conversation in an empathetic, giving, kind way. If you are searching for depth about the science or emotion of grief, you will likely be disappointed. But if you have a lack of scholarly or real world knowledge about grief, it is a lovely, open way to begin the process.

Grade: B+

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