The bitter end of the year has seen its best comedy by far – more sublime than Spinal Tap, more outrageous than 40 Year Old Virgin, Seven Pounds is a riot from stem to stern that left me in tears by its denouement with laughter loud enough to incur a warning from the theatre staff. That the hilarity is unintentional only adds to the fun of this Oscar-baiting exercise that shoots its load relentlessly into the numbed and unconscious face of the battered viewer. As a ruthlessly somber drama so filled with portent that it dribbles into your lap with every swelling of the rather overworked symphony, it double-dog dares you to withhold a micron of empathy and pummels your lachrymal glands for every drop of unearned tears. At least it got that last part right, because when Will “I gotta get me an Oscar” Smith finally kills himself in the bathtub with a box jellyfish, it is all you can do to remain seated while applauding.
I should back up here – Will Smith is a morose asshole who kills seven people, including his wife, in a road accident through inattention. When he intones this passage from the book of Shit Screenplays, chapter seven, verse seven: “In seven days, God created the world. In seven seconds, I shattered mine,” he starts up an overbearing God Complex that only gets worse. Since that time, he has been looking for a way to redeem himself and pay his seven pounds of flesh, through finding many different ways to shoehorn in the “seven” motif. He hits on the idea of donating his organs and killing himself piece by piece in order to atone for those who suffered by his hand; essentially bringing life to others. This starts with a lung cancer patient who receives a lung lobe transplant, and a woman working in social services who receives a liver lobe transplant. So he decides to finish the job by committing suicide and arranging to have his organs go to seven specific people who are worthy of his tissues.
How does he determine their worth? He steals an IRS badge from the lung patient, and uses the resources of the liver patient (guaranteeing their termination in the real world) and selects seven people to stalk to make sure they are good people and deserving of his healing touch. “Worthy” is the focus here, as it is all about Will Smith’s character, and his boundless awesomeness that will be celebrated forever by his decidedly non-anonymous gifts. Despite the endless crying and gratitude, this is all about his character, period, and the understanding that without his intervention they would all be quite dead. Or they would get a transplant from a legitimate source. All along this journey, the star sweats, and strains, and pops every vein in his head to impress upon you that this is deadly serious and you should stop laughing now.
In fact, every problem that encounters his selected apostles, no matter how small, he will set himself to fix it sharpish. When he meets Rosario Dawson, who has the best figure of any dying congestive heart failure patient by far, he notices weeds in her yard, and sets to weeding right away. She mentions a broken printing press in her garage, and you know he will fix it. This introduction of a problem followed quickly by Will Smith’s quick remedy is predictable to say the least, and each time is accompanied by inspiring music and nausea-inducing meaningful close-ups. He also stalks a Mexican woman who is beaten by her boyfriend, and over much crying and clenching of jaw muscles, he gives her a new SUV and his vacation house with an ocean sunset to boot. This has nothing to do with the organ-donor suicide drama, it is just padding in case we didn’t get just how pants-shittingly wonderful this guy is.
As a stalker, this guy is an insufferable penis. He calls up a guy who needs a corneal transplant, accuses him of being an incompetent call center staffer for being a vegan virgin blind guy. It’s just as awkward as it sounds, because he is actually testing him, you know, to see if he is a pussy about the whole ‘blind virgin’ thing and worthy of his corneas (corneal transplant waiting lists are 1-3 months, so go fuck yourself before you kill yourself). And does he violently break his phone with a chair to assure us that he has good intentions? Oh yes, and it gets better:
– He has a box jellyfish in a tank in his house. He keeps a pet that has the world’s most lethal venom. Who does this? Nobody. Will it be his method of suicide? You bet your inner drama queen.
– Does the film have flashbacks to an idyllic home life before the horrible event? What film released in Oscar season wouldn’t?
– Is his stalking creepy in any way? He watches Rosario Dawson’s character sleeping in a hospital bed, and later does some heavy pumping while promising to marry her. Taking advantage of a desperate, dying woman is hardly selfless.
– Does he deny his godly gifts to anyone? Well, there’s an evil nursing home manager who could use a bone marrow transplant, and he boasts about cost cutting measures while owning a brand new BMW and talking demented old patients into accepting treatments they don’t want. Will Smith even verifies that the guy is a dick by asking a demented old bat. Presumably she understood she was replying to a complicated question rather than choosing a Jell-O flavor. This is laughable not because elder abuse is funny, but because this one-dimensional arbitrary gremlin was invented in the fevered mind of a screenwriter.
– Surely a bone marrow donation is made? Sure is, and in case you have forgotten that he is repentant and saintly, he does so without anesthetic. His jaw-clenched agony would be poignant if it did not appear that he was indulging in his first try at anal.
– Any other random episodes meant to evoke pity? Much time is spent drifting through chemo wards and flashing back to the accident, so literally every spare second not spent yielding those seven pounds of flesh is spent with some random unfortunate goon meant to wring tears of pity from the audience. This would be obnoxious if it could be taken seriously.
– How does he introduce himself to Rosario Dawson and get across that he wants to donate a heart to her? He ambushes her in the hospital and informs her that she is being audited, as one would do.
– Does he give a kidney away early on? Yes, the pathos is spread wide and thick. He found the recipient because he raised funding for “Latinos on Ice”. No, really.
So this is pretty weepy bullshit, and fraught with problems both factual and philosophical. For one, Box Jellyfish stings are cardio-toxic and cause immediate arrest in large doses, so his heart would be quite useless. A gun is the most useful method of suicide for this purpose as it spares the rest of the body, but then Smith’s character would not appear to be quite as incredible a martyr. For another, anyone involved with helping him would go to jail. Not that it matters, since this is all about him. Organ donation is a private and anonymous matter for a reason, while Will Smith plays an overcooked diva who demands everyone knows about his sacrifice, for which he comes off as a self-righteous douche. One does not get to choose the recipient of an organ in general, otherwise we would all choose people for varied unjustified reasons; instead luck governs the process, which is invariably more fair due to the lack of human emotion. Not that this film is overflowing with that sort of thing.
This masterpiece of tragedy porn is remarkably efficient, in that every single minute of its running time is packed either with the details of the road accident that led him down this path (loaded with shots of his tortured, constipated face) or the various large and small sacrifices he makes in the name of guaranteeing his immortality via creation of living memorials in his organ recipients. When the screen isn’t filled with crying actors, it rains harder than a Kurosawa film. When the final moment comes, he jumps into a bathtub full of ice after calling 911, and dumps in his poorly rendered CGI box jellyfish. When he grabs hold of it, he screams, convulses, ripping down the shower curtain while moments from his car accident are interspersed, with a flipping van with bodies flying out, and oh yes, this is every bit as funny as it sounds.
After his death, his heart is transplanted into Rosario Dawson, she is informed who the donor is, and I am shocked that the guy doesn’t request – or demand, rather – burial in her backyard to ensure she doesn’t forget that her life is owed to him. And wouldn’t you know that he sends a letter to each person reminding them of his gifts, and they get together to reminisce about sainted, martyred Will Smith, denied the Oscar yet again. Don’t take my word for it – I recommend this film as much as any work by Renoir, Melville, or Ozu. Resplendent in its shamelessness, august in its sheer ridiculousness, with a gloriously melodramatic death by jellyfish that guarantees remembrance among his apostles and the audience for all time.