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Originally published May 1, 2014 at 3:05 PM | Page modified May 2, 2014 at 12:07 PM

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‘Decoding Annie Parker’: a tale of battling cancer on 2 fronts

A 2.5-star movie review of “Decoding Annie Parker”: Tracing the lives of both a patient and a research scientist, the film is the story of the quest to find the breast-cancer gene.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 2.5 stars

‘Decoding Annie Parker,’ with Samantha Morton, Helen Hunt, Alice Eve, Rashida Jones, Aaron Paul, Marley Shelton, Corey Stoll. Directed by Steven Bernstein, from a screenplay by Bernstein, Adam Bernstein and Michael Moss. 100 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Sundance.

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“Decoding Annie Parker,” though uneven in its execution, has at its heart two remarkable women and one remarkable performance. The real-life Annie Parker is a Canadian woman who before her own diagnosis of breast cancer decades ago had lost her mother, sister and cousin to the disease. At the time, there was no known genetic link to breast cancer, but Parker wondered if there might be, despite doctors’ assurances that her family was just unlucky. As she endured treatment, recovery and recurrence some years later, Dr. Mary-Claire King was working at the University of California, Berkeley, on studies that would eventually discover what is now known as the BRCA1 gene, which leads to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. (She now continues her research at the King Lab at the University of Washington.)

In the film, the two women’s lives overlap, though they meet only once; we’re told Parker’s story in tandem with King’s (though Parker’s gets most of the screen time). It’s a tricky structure that doesn’t always make sense; the joint timelines become confusing, and Helen Hunt as King has so few scenes that she doesn’t strongly register as a character. And director/co-writer Steven Bernstein’s decision to make the film a sort of comedy/drama is tricky as well — much of the humor feels weirdly out of place (such as a running gag involving a funeral-home employee), and a jaunty voice-over in Annie’s words sometimes seems at odds with the story unfolding.

But ultimately, what makes this movie work is a story guaranteed to move and inspire anyone whose life has been touched by cancer (and whose hasn’t?), and a performance by Samantha Morton as Annie that’s as warm as a surprise Seattle spring. You’re on this woman’s side immediately, and Morton gives her an impossibly wide smile and a quietly simmering determination to learn, to know, to crack a hole in cancer’s frightening wall. “Maybe it doesn’t matter what we have faith in,” says this can’t-knock-her-down survivor, “as long as we have faith in something.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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