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(Check out Chris Reed’s movie review of Jack Has a Plan which is currently enjoying a fantastic festival run. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Jack Tuller was born in 1961 and died in 2019. He was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1994 and told he had maybe 6 months to live. Undeterred, he and the woman with whom he had recently fallen in love, Jennifer Cariño, continued to forge a life together. 5 months after Jack’s surgery, doctors announced that the remaining tumor was gone.

Cue a happy wedding and a happily ever after. Not quite; yes to the former, but no to the latter, for there would come a time, 22 years later, when the cancer returned. In Jack Has a Plan, filmmaker Bradley Berman (Nat Bates for Mayor) chronicles the life, and death, of his friend, celebrating his joie de vivre and the grace with which he accepted the inevitable.

The film starts on Jack’s final day, without (yet) full context for the conversation between director and protagonist. Jack expresses anxiety about what is about to happen, worried over the conversations he will soon have with friends and family. For, social animal that he is, Jack has organized a farewell party for himself. This is California, after all, where the End of Life Option Act was passed in 2016, allowing terminally ill folks like Jack to choose the proper moment to say goodbye.

But then we flash back to 2016, to Jack’s request to Berman that he make a movie about him, and then all the way to the bad news in 1994. From there we jump around through Jack’s timeline, though mostly stay in 2016 forwards. It’s in that year that Jack discovered that the cancer was back. Slowly, bit by bit, he began to suffer seizures and lose memory function and more, though often he would appear as he always had. Knowing that this was an inexorable decline, and refusing chemotherapy (which made him wish he were dead in 1994), Jack embraces his condition and prepares for the day when he will end his life.

Before then, however, there is much to be done, including finding his long-lost father and trying to reconcile with the mother with whom he has not spoken for 25 years. Berman follows Jack through these adventures (and misadventures), interviewing loved ones and buddies and mixing in plenty of archival material. A one-time jazz musician, Jack gave up that career after the first diagnosis, moving into real estate. In short, there is a great variety of footage to enhance the narrative.

Though this is ultimately a sad tale, it’s also life-affirming. Death is tragic, if unavoidable, because what happens during our time on the planet can be beautiful. Jack touched many, and their testimonies here remind us of the pleasures that matter. Plus, it’s inspiring, and civilized, that someone entering a physically painful journey can choose to depart on their own terms. Jack, it turns out, had a very good plan, indeed.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Bradley Berman ; Jack Has a Plan documentary movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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