Documentary Releases: The Long Goodbye - The Kara Tippetts Story (2019) - Reviewed

Christian blogger Kara Tippetts, founder of the website ‘Mundane Faithfulness’, wife to a pastor and mother of four, settled in Colorado with her family in the hopes of establishing a new church.  Tragically, the happy couple’s shared dream was cut short when she was suddenly diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.  While sharing her personal struggle with battling cancer and facing the prospect of death, Kara Tippetts’ story caught the attention of Christian reality television producers Jay and Sofia Lyons.  Initially pitched as a documentary series exploring the process of dealing with dying, upon meeting Kara the project evolved into a feature length documentary film capturing her final moments leading up to her tragic death.  

A delicately photographed documentary filled with grief and pain as well as joy and a measure of grace, The Long Goodbye – The Kara Tippetts Story (not to be confused with Robert Altman’s 1973 masterwork of the same name) is simultaneously deeply moving and oddly frustrating.  As a cancer survivor myself (thyroid in my case) and having watched my own mother’s struggle with it herself over the years, part of me is indeed touched by Kara’s ordeal and her ability to still find joy in all of the gifts life still had to offer her.  As a filmgoer judging a work objectively, somewhere along the way, purely as a film and at the risk of sounding heartless, The Long Goodbye – The Kara Tippetts Story starts to repeat itself at the halfway mark.  Somewhere in here is a powerful Dateline NBC episode.  At feature length, the impact is diffused somewhat.

Which is not to say Kara’s struggle with all of her moments of good and bad chronicled onscreen isn’t emotionally affecting.  Pretty much everyone who came into contact with Kara as well as those only familiar with her story emerged as changed people.  Many who themselves have been struggling to find meaning to their lives as their debilitating illnesses continue to erode away at their quality of life found renewed strength to go on after encountering Kara Tippetts.  Friends and family also found their own personal struggles put into perspective upon encountering Kara’s ordeal and her inner strength to still find peace and happiness amid her pain and suffering.

In one of the film’s most profoundly sad moments, Kara found herself at the epicenter of a media firestorm after reaching out to Brittany Maynard who upon being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer announced her decision to take her own life rather than die of natural causes.  Kara, believing dying with grace meant living life to the fullest end rather than cutting it short with assisted suicide, pleaded with Brittany not to take her own life.  While Kara’s plea was intended with love and sincerity, it wasn’t taken that way and she was publicly attacked in the press as “insensitive”, a wrongful misjudgment of Kara’s character which left her deeply hurt.

I’m extremely conflicted in writing this review due to my own experiences with cancer.  I’m personally touched by Kara’s story and frustrated the filmmakers stretched the piece out to the point that it loses some of it’s intended impact.  On the one hand I do recommend it to anyone who themselves is suffering from cancer or anyone who knows a friend, sibling or loved one who is faced with the prospect of dying.  It teaches you a great deal of how to enjoy every little moment in life and make the most of your days on Earth.  On the other hand, a powerful and moving story about facing the fear of death with grace and strength of heart can also still, in these filmmakers’ hands, become redundant.  I’m glad to have become familiar with the Kara Tippetts story but wish the filmmakers had more astute editors cognizant of the tightrope walk between engaging or losing a viewer’s investment in the story overseeing it.

- Andrew Kotwicki