Making the Grades
Nothing spurs on parents like a threat to their children. For John and Aileen Crowley (Brendan Fraser, Keri Russell), the enemy attacking two of their three children is a rare genetic disorder known as Pompe disease. With a diagnosis of a dramatically shortened lifespan, John and Aileen know that time is their worst enemy. (In that era, most children died by age 9.)
As the condition of the Crowley’s children, Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez), continues to deteriorate, the whole family, including the oldest brother (Sam Hall), begins to feel the strain of an uncertain future.
Then, while working in a management position at a drug development company in New Jersey, John stumbles across some research conducted by Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact the unconventional academic, John flies across the country to track down the reclusive and crotchety scientist. Working in a cluttered, underfunded lab, the doctor believes he is on to an antidote that could help prolong the life of patients with this disorder. But after years of filling out forms for grants, Robert is tired of fighting the bureaucratic battle for financial support.
Explaining his family’s plight over beers in a bar, John, on the spur of the moment, pledges $500,000 to help the scientist develop his theory into a viable medical treatment. But for the Crowley family, coming up with the cash means long hours of fundraising, campaigning for their cause and connecting with other Pompe patients and their families. As a result of their commitment, John is gone for long hours working at the office or flying around the country in an attempt to solicit money.
However their efforts allow Robert to access space in a highly competitive laboratory where a pharmaceutical company pits its own scientists against one another in a bid to improve their chances of finding a cure. Yet despite his brilliant scientific mind, the doctor’s quick temper and lack of social skills causes friction between him and other researchers, which jeopardizes the lab’s experiments.
Both Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser give strong performances as characters who endure personal attacks, betrayals and even arguments with each other during their endeavor to bring a new drug to market. The actual John Crowley also makes an appearance in the film as a member of a venture capitalist group. But unfortunately, even with the real possibility of death looming on the horizon, the sense of urgency in this dialogue-driven film is often underplayed.
Still, the movie, based on the book The Cure, remains a powerful story of parental love and family commitment. Tackling their own fears and the corporate world of drug developers, the Crowleys become a positive force for change in the lives of their own children and other Pompe patients as well.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Extraordinary Measures.
In the film, Dr. Stonehill claims that scientists are more interested in research than money. What do you think he means by this? Do you think that is true? What role does money play in research?
How are cooperation and competition depicted in this story? Which option do you think ensures the best and fastest results? Why does the drug company promote competition between its core research groups?
What personal challenges and affronts do John and Robert face during the process of developing their drug therapy?
Meet the real Crowley family and watch an interview about their experience.