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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Joseph Mazzello and Brad Renfro were two very important child actors in the early 1990s. Mazzello starred as young Tim Murphy in 1993’s blockbuster Jurassic Park and Renfro burst onto the screen in 1994’s big hit The Client. In 1995, the two were paired on-screen in the AIDs drama The Cure, a melodramatic but eminently watchable film that made little impact on the box office but has a place in my memory for sure. Though it wasn’t a hit by any measurable standards, the film successfully blended comedy and drama in a way that few films can, and it stands as a watershed moment for me in understanding what AIDs was in a time when there were still quite a few myths about the disease.
Growing up, AIDs was always explained to me as something that only homosexuals get. Although I had heard stories about children contracting HIV from blood transfusions, I didn’t really know what that meant. Watching The Cure helped give me a better understanding of the disease, and Mazzello’s performance as Dexter, the lovable pre-teen moppet who unfortunately got HIV (and then later, full blown AIDs) from a life-saving blood transfusion, is humanizing and full of depth. Likewise, Renfro’s portrayal of the teenaged Erik, a young man with a lot of questions and a lot of (incorrect) assumptions about AIDs, is believable and relatable.
The film opens with Erik’s peers verbally attacking him with vulgarity simply because his neighbor, the aforementioned Dexter, is suffering from AIDs. Erik and his mother believe that perhaps even Dexter’s breath could cause someone to get AIDs, though Erik quickly moves beyond his fears after befriending Dexter when the two realize they have common interests. They soon become best friends, with Erik’s mother being away at work most days and Dexter’s mother happy to see her sickly son has a new friend. Dexter teachers Erik not to be afraid of people with diseases, and Erik teaches Dexter how to better enjoy life, taking him rafting, to the grocery store, and to various other boy-friendly activities.
It isn’t long before Erik decides he’s going to help his dying friend find a cure for AIDs, and the two begin to experiment by making herbal teas out of random plants and flowers, which Erik catalogues in a notebook. When this doesn’t work out (shocking!), the two come up with an idea to travel down the Mississippi river to New Orleans in order to find a doctor they believe can help with Dexter’s illness. Thus, the two run away together on an adventure on the Mississippi, where they meet up with some no-goodnicks who threaten our young heroes. Though this is the most unbelievable part of the film (though to be fair, I guess it was pre-Amber Alert days), it does allow Erik and Dexter a chance to become even closer friends.
Dexter, in the final stages of his illness at this point, becomes even sicker and clearly needs both his mother and medical attention. Erik takes him back to his mother via bus, where Dexter is immediately taken to the hospital. His last few days on earth allow him to grow even closer to his best friend and protector Erik. When Dexter does finally pass away, Erik has clearly grown and changed for the better as a person. His journey from tough new kid on the block to wise and mature young man now well on its way. The Cure is a very sad film in the end, but the journey is enjoyable. I liked this film quite a bit even now in 2016. Though we know quite a bit more about the AIDs virus, it is still a touching film that successfully attempts to remove the stigma of this horrible disease. I think there’s still value in watching The Cure, and I would recommend it. I enjoyed it back in 1995, and I still like it quite a bit two decades later.