STUDIO: Docurama
MSRP: $26.95
Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 83 Minutes
October 30, 2008

  • Filmmaker Interview with Roger Weisberg
  • Short Films: Uncovered
  • Short Films: Your Money or Your Life
  • Filmmaker Biography

The Pitch:

The filmmakers follow four families as they lose, cannot afford, or cannot obtain health insurance to cover their serious medical issues.

The Humans:

Director Roger Weisberg and assorted fluid filled, gangrene eaten, cancer ridden people.

Critical Condition DVD

Graphics from 1996 pull the 2006 punch Weisberg was looking for.

The Nutshell:

In what feels like 90 minutes of watching people limp around, we follow the stories of four families that are facing serious or life-threatening medical issues without health insurance. These are people that make between $14k and $40-something-k a year and are having to choose between keeping the lights on and their families fed and basic medication that will help to prevent more serious health complications.

The Lowdown:

“Right now, it’s bills be damned.
Let’s do this,” says the doctor that discovers stage 3-C ovarian cancer in one of the profiled cases. These are people with life threatening stuff that just needs
to be taken care of and/or removed. These are people that can just
barely pay $40 a month on their piling medical bills. All seem to have good intentions. They work hard and get sick just like anyone else can. And these
people, mostly, need to work no matter how much pain they are in. 

The most transcendent and upsetting case is a Californian man that had
to drop his health insurance because he had to choose between affording
the premiums or
using that cash to feed his family. So he cancelled it. He was
taking ten pills a day to deal with pain resulting from a bone deformity
in his spine. He’d go to work no
matter how bad he felt. He survived the pain by taking dangerously high
doses of pain medication daily. And when he went to a health fair to get
checked out, they said that his blood volume due to internal bleeding
from ulcerations
from the pain medication was down to only 30% and that he could die
on the way to work. They had to scare the man into going to the E.R.
because he just wanted to go to work. You really do feel for this man.
The others, not so much.

Prosthesis Store

Fact: Saint Crispin may be in hell, be he made sure the lame could run around kickin’ ass in plastic feet.

This film does have a blood-and-guts
factor to it. You get to see the full slice at the ankle when they’re
amputating someone’s foot, and a video of the actual insides of a
woman’s body when they go in to remove her neglected ovaries.You also
see a man with chronic liver disease suffer edema, which means he fills
up with fluid and becomes huge. At some point he appears with half of
the teeth in his mouth missing. The gross is pretty gross. It also does
nothing to support the point of the film.

One of the profiled
families continually has fake conversations for the camera, and it gets a
little annoying. It gets to feel like watching someone enjoy attention
than it does understand a connection between the messed up state of the
American health care system and the lives of real people.

Fat man with doctor

Pear-itis is not covered by health insurance. Yet I’m more interested in where this man buys his pants.

I can appreciate the hearts of the
people willing to open up their lives and share their fears and very
personal information and I think that on some level, anyone
can walk away from watching this feeling the same way. So the filmmaker
was able to induce some feeling of empathy (which some subjects inspire
more than others.) However… empathy for the subjects is about all it
achieves: it doesn’t incite outrage
for the system as Roger Weisberg had hoped to achieve, according to his

The coverage of the
way the system works is alluded to in piles of bills on kitchen tables
and closeups of wrinkly fingers punching numbers into dusty calculators.
About ten minutes into the film, you’re guaranteed to be tired of the
statistics they flash on the screen. The connection between the
microcosm of their subjects and the larger
issue, though, is never really made unless you work hard to make that
leap yourself. Shouldn’t a good documentary do that? It doesn’t need to
do your thinking for you, but it needs to take
big facts and make them human and understandable.

Arreola's Bakery and Meat Market

There is a nipple and dick joke here, but we don’t need it. More importantly, this place exists.

Once you realize that all of the statistics referenced are current as
of 2006, you might start to get that feeling you might have had in
middle school where you’re watching something from the seventies and
can’t get over the old clothes. Too  much time has passed, and there is a
disconnect. And in the shadow of impending Obama Care, the facts seem

Mournful saxophone music often plays over the story to
show us that people are sad. It actually makes it funny. And of
course, they show a guy alone in a church seeking answers in front of
candles. Whether it was authentic or not, it causes the story to
lapse into parody.

The graphics are horrible. The grid they
superimpose when they fade from one story to the other is a cheesy
aesthetic with a 90’s feel, and really hurts the story.

Cancer lady drives the van

“Driiiiiving around… in my cancer bonnet and specs.”

The real documentary is actually in the
extras… “Uncovered” is a short film that actually shows a
couple fighting Blue Cross with a law suit for retroactively
cancelling their health insurance for twins that were born three
months prematurely. It is one of the only parts of this DVD that shows the
true connection between the systems and the individuals beyond
statistics pasted over the images of people. (Which anyone could have done.)

other short film “Your Money or Your Life” also does its job. I
actually preferred the extras to the actual feature documentary. Rare
case for a DVD. 

In the interview
with the filmmaker Roger Weisberg, you learn that he was a teacher and
a consumer advocate. He then ended up doing consumer reports for public
television as a field correspondent. And then he grew into… this mess
you see on the DVD. It’s not great. But it makes sense when you learn of
his background.

I didnt’ come away outraged as the filmmaker hoped.  I feel more informed, sure, but that’s perhaps all one can expect from a teacher-gone-filmmaker.

I can’t see anyone wanting to purchase
this DVD to watch, especially with the rapidly aging statistics (which you can look up on Google anyway.) I can imagine casually viewing it if it was
already running on regular television, but for $26.95 MSRP no. Actually, for $5.00, no.

2.5 out of 10