At 30, Patrick Sean O’Brien was TransFatty, a New York City DJ, Internet personality, and filmmaker. He spent his days as a beer-drinking creative force, making art films about perverts, vulnerable souls, and Howard Johnson’s restaurants. Then his legs started shaking.
Defying sentimentality, TRANSFATTY LIVES takes you on an emotional roller coaster from Patrick’s wild, fun-loving days into the dark heart of ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease). Given 2 to 5 years to live, Patrick first loses his ability to walk, then move his arms, then to swallow, and even to breathe. With the support of his bewildered friends and family Patrick braves the unthinkable and turns his camera onto himself.
As the director and star of his own documentary, Patrick films every step of his debilitating journey from first diagnosis through his current paralysis. Forcefully lacking self pity, he captures the emotion, humor, and absurdity of real life as he makes art, gets political, falls in love, fathers a son, and fights extreme depression and paranoia.
At 40, Patrick has completed this film by typing directions to his editors with the movements of his pupils. Miraculously, TRANSFATTY LIVES is not a movie about death. Because, while Patrick’s brain stopped being able to control his muscles, it remains brilliantly alive, allowing him to ask: “What if my diminishing physical abilities can be inversely proportional to my journey inward? And, more importantly, “will there be bacon and unicorns once I get there?”
Patrick’s film is moving, impactful, and funny. Narrated by Patrick, mostly through voice-to-text on his computer via eye movements, the structure of the film is high impact with footage from his previous quirky films, photographs of his adventures, and dairy entries starting from 2005, when he was diagnosed with ALS. Completely unafraid, what began as a film about Patrick’s love for Howard Johnson, soon becomes a film about his journey. His crew seem to become a huge part in his care-taking. Along with his family, they are totally immersed in Patrick’s world, as much as someone without ALS can possibly be. If you’re not crying half way through this doc, you may not actually have a soul. Patrick has created a lens through which the audience can begin to understand just how quickly this disease sucks the life out of you physically. Having Patrick as the center of this project is invaluable. Firstly, he’s intensely charming. Using humor and positivity, he is able to put us at ease. But, moments of extraordinary challenge break the surface at every turn, throwing reality back into our faces just as quickly. The film’s balance is sheer perfection. TRANSFATTY LIVES should be seriously considered as awards season ramps up in the coming weeks. Patrick Sean O’Brien is a brilliant filmmaker and one hell of a human being.
TRANSFATTY LIVES won the ‘Audience Award’ at The Tribeca Film Festival, Milano Film Festival, and American Film Festival in Poland. It was also a Top 20 Film at HotDocs International Film Festival.