One of the first things I established with Tom E. Brown when I spoke with him on June 17, 2016 was that his debut feature film, PUSHING DEAD, was not autobiographical. It does, however, reflect his mordant sense of humor about living with HIV+ status, and it includes an interlude where a character is pelted with D batteries.
Brown calls his film the first comedy about AIDS, and for all the comedy, and there’s plenty, this is also a film that takes a hard look at dating, family (biological and chosen), and the maze that people are forced to run in order to get subsidies for meds that can run into the thousands of dollars every month. That he makes it screamingly funny is a testament to Brown’s pitch perfects sense of the absurd, even when describing what it was like to get his diagnosis back in the 1980s, when it was all but a death sentence.
PUSHING DEAD is a black comedy about a mother’s best intentions going south, the eccentricities of close relationships, and a ubiquitous pre-adolescent girl as the voice of the universe. James Roday plays Dan Shauble, whose challenges include a last name that is regularly mangled, a calling to slam poetry that has hit a nadir of popularity, and the bureaucratic brick wall that his insurance plan has put between him and the HIV meds that have kept him relatively healthy for the last 22 years. Meanwhile his roommate has developed a disturbing yet somehow sweet relationship with the stuffed animal he bought her, and his boss has had a falling out with his wife over what she terms swiss-flavored crackers, and a beautiful blonde man keeps popping up randomly as Dan goes about his life trying to get his meds, calm his mother over the phone, and otherwise cope with the vicissitudes and victories life has to offer. The film co-stars Robin Weigert, Danny Glover, Khandi Alexander, Tom Riley, Megan Sands, and co-producer Richard LaGravanese as the etiquette-challenged mugger who gets his comeuppance and a tiny epiphany. Brown directed from his own script and his previous work has been seen at the Guggenheim museum and includes the shorts TRADESMAN’S EXIT, DAS CLOWN, and RUBBER GLOVES.