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December 2005

by Jean Ryan

The documentary movie, "39 Pounds of Love," directed by Dani Menkin, is now playing in several theatres around the country including the Sunshine in NYC. At a recent preview, I laughed and cried my way through the movie and found myself thinking about it days later, unlike most movies which I forget as soon as I leave the theater.

Who is the 39 Pounds of Love? A 34-year-old man named Ami Ankilewitz who has a form of SMA, Spinal Muscular Atrophy II, a congenital disease which is a form of muscular dystrophy. Ami lives in Israel and was born in Texas, where a doctor predicted that he would only live to be six years old. His mother has devoted her life to him at the expense of her other son and her grandchildren. But Ami also has attendants and he lives a very full life for someone who can only move one finger.

Ami hangs out in bars with his friends and loves to party. He's also a 3-D computer animator and we see some of his very expressive, wordless cartoons, especially about his love for a beautiful and vivacious former attendant, Christina.

A large part of this interesting, thought-provoking, touching, and funny movie shows Ami with his friends and family on a cross-U.S. road trip. One of my favorites was the scene in the RV where everyone was dancing to "La Cucaracha."

This movie does not pretend that Ami's whole life is rosy, and it shows his physical suffering when he pushes himself to the limit. We also glimpse some of the care that Ami needs. We learn of the affects that Ami's condition had on his whole family.

Some of the blurbs about the movie call it inspirational, but I wouldn't call it that. I would call it more a slice-of-life movie that is about a man with a severe disability and his family and friends. Why is it supposed to be inspirational when a person with a disability has a "normal" life? I think it is because nondisabled people do not know us very well. They wouldn't call their lives inspirational and they shouldn't call ours that, either.

Go see this movie and see what you think about it. I guarantee that it will make you think.