As we wind down toward the end of the year, it’s time for my annual “watch everything I can get my hands on because if I don’t I won’t be able to make a top ten list” tradition. It’s not a hot take to say that this has been a terrible year, and a lack of major studio flicks means there are going to be a lot more straight-to-streaming releases that end up making the rounds this year. Run is definitely one of these, as it’s a straight-to-Hulu movie that feels bigger than it really is.
Chloe (Kiera Allen) is seventeen and wheelchair bound, in addition to a host of other physical maladies that include but are not limited to diabetes, asthma, and arrhythmia. She is cared for by her doting mother Diane (Sarah Paulson), a substitute teacher, although she is excited about the possibility of leaving home to attend the University of Washington and anxiously awaits her acceptance letter. Chloe’s life is one of structure and routine devoted to academic study, building a 3D printer, and a regimen of medications and physical therapy. Life is sweet until Chloe, while trying to sneak some chocolates, discovers a prescription of her mother’s and catches Diane in a lie that unravels the seemingly solid world in which Chloe lives.
It’s easy to dismiss Run, and honestly, I’m trying my best not to dismiss it myself. It’s a deceptively slight movie, with a premise that’s worn a little thin. It’s not much of a stretch to assume that the film was inspired by the real life story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother Dee Dee, who came to national attention after the latter’s murder in 2015. It’s been a hot topic several times already: in HBO’s Mommy Dead and Dearest documentary in 2017, Investigation Discovery’s 2018 doc Gypsy’s Revenge, and fictionalized in 2019 in both the film Love You to Death starring Marcia Gay Harden as Dee Dee and the Hulu series The Act starring Patricia Arquette as the same. Run was initially conceived in 2018 as well, and began production that same year, with the intent to be released earlier this year to coincide with Mother’s Day (a deliciously macabre idea) before being pushed back due to (what else?) COVID-19.
But here and now, appearing with little fanfare a week before Thanksgiving in the twilight of the year, it feels a little tired and dated, especially in a year that already gave us powerhouse performances from Paulson in the gratuitous and wholly unnecessary Ryan Murphy joint Ratched as well as (I assume) Mrs. America. Run succeeds not on the strength of Paulson’s performance, although she’s as reliable as ever, but on that of relative newcomer Kiera Allen, along with deft direction by Aneesh Chaganty and some beautiful cinematography from Hillary Spera. With those elements removed, add a gauzy filter, and this becomes virtually indistinguishable from a Lifetime Original starring Tori Spelling as the lead in A Mother’s Folly or My Only Sin Was Too Much Love.
All that separates it from that fate is Allen’s Chloe, who projects a kind of strength that makes her a capable successor to James Caan’s Paul Sheldon in a modern Munchausen by Misery. That’s not a stretch either—it’s in the text of the film, as the automated recording that Chloe reaches when dialing 411 asks her to designate a city and state when she calls, and gives the example of Derry, Maine*; still later, she enlists the assistance of a pharmacist who is named only as “Kathy” in the film but is credited in full as “Kathy Bates,” per IMDb. And there’s a lot of Misery mixed up in here, down to the entrapped individual learning the shocking truth about their captor from a box of old photos and newspaper clippings. This, too, contributes to the general “Haven’t I seen this all before?” malaise of the film, although to his credit, Chaganty’s camera is more dynamic than Rob Reiner’s was; for its great performances, Misery is shot like a stage play, while there are many stand-out sequences in Run, but there’s something just a little … silly about them. I don’t want to spoil anything by going into why, but the final act reaches moments of complete absurdity among other scenes that are more grounded and thus more thrilling.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the ways that the film wrings drama out of the simplest of things: getting the mail, trying to Google something, hanging up the phone before getting a charge for calling 411, and even phoning a stranger. It’s also fully a 2020 film, as it revolves around being trapped inside and losing out on important milestones because of the selfishness of another person, as well as the fact that our lead’s two biggest heroes are a frontline healthcare worker and a postman (thanks for saving democracy, USPS!). But in the end, it doesn’t transport you anywhere or really serve as a new version of this story that we’ve seen several times now. It’s fine.
*Yes, I am aware that Misery does not take place in Derry or even New England, as it takes place in Colorado. Don’t @ me.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond