“I’LL PUSH YOU” — 3 stars — Patrick Gray, Justin Skeesuck, Ted Hardy, Michael Turner; PG-13 (language); "I'll Push You" was screened Thursday and will be available on illpushyou.com starting Dec. 17. Additional showtimes will be available on illpushyou.com.
Chris Karcher and Terry Parish’s “I’ll Push You” should easily land on anyone’s short list for 2017 Feel-Good Documentary of the Year.
“I’ll Push You” is the story of two lifelong friends who set out together to hike El Camino de Santiago, the 500-mile route across France and Spain that religious pilgrims have been traversing for a thousand years. It sounds like an interesting enough documentary subject on its own, but “I’ll Push You” features a heartwarming twist: Only one of the friends has the use of his legs.
As an adult, Justin Skeesuck was diagnosed with multifocal acquired motor axonopathy, a progressively debilitative disease that essentially makes the immune system attack the nervous system, compromising the use of one group of muscles at a time. By the time Skeesuck and his best friend Patrick Gray decided to hike El Camino, he had already lost almost complete use of his limbs, so the plan is to have Gray push him along the length of the trail using a specially modified aluminum wheelchair.
We quickly learn that Gray is the ideal man for the job, painted by friends and family as a compulsive worker and a dedicated friend. As we watch the pair leave Boise, Idaho, for France, it quickly becomes clear that we are watching something very special.
While we watch the (sometimes literally) step-by-step progress of their journey, “I’ll Push You” interjects various interview clips and other footage that fills in the friends’ back story, detailing their friendship, their marriages and eventually the story of Skeesuck’s illness. Both Skeesuck and Gray are devout family men, and “I’ll Push You” makes it clear that their wives and families drive their efforts.
The 500-mile route typically takes about five weeks to complete, and a mutual friend named Ted Hardy joins Gray and Skeesuck for the first 10 days of hiking before having to return home for work. But even with two men on the job, hauling Skeesuck’s chair up the rocky slopes of the trail — which in one day’s climb ascends more than 4,000 feet — is a massive and exhausting undertaking.
We also spend time away from the trail in different hotels as we see how Gray has to help his friend with everything from eating to dressing to using the bathroom. Through it all, Skeesuck keeps on a bright countenance, and Gray, though weary, is determined to come through for his friend.
“I’ll Push You” is one of the most genuine testaments to friendship found on film, but its impact is augmented all the more when we see what happens with the other pilgrims on the trail. The details won’t be described here, but make sure you stick around for what happens on some of the final legs of the journey. It will make your day.
Karcher and Parish’s effort isn’t flashy, but it draws strength from its sincerity and its intimacy. We get an up close and personal view of Gray and Skeesuck’s struggle — in one amusing moment, Hardy has to warn the backpedaling cameraman that he’s about to stumble — and “I’ll Push You” complements its story with the beautiful, mist-shrouded and elegant scenery along El Camino. The full pilgrimage may be 500 miles long, but stories like “I’ll Push You” strongly suggest that some of life’s best moments come in the pursuit of hard things.
“I’ll Push You” is rated PG-13 for language; running time: 100 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube.