Reason for Living is based on the late Jill Ireland’s 1989 autobiographical book about not only her struggle with breast cancer but also her attempts to help her emotionally troubled, drug-addicted son, Jason (All My Children’s Neill Barry). Jill Clayburgh is Ireland, and Lance Henriksen (Aliens) plays Ireland’s husband, action star Charles Bronson.
If the story weren’t based on fact, it would seem a fantasy: This is, on its surface, the sort of TV movie in which rich people eat expensive chocolates, ride their pet horses, and nurse themselves in the lap of luxury — all of the details offered as an inspirational story for the millions of less well-heeled viewers who also have cancer.
Reason for Living has a couple of things going for it. One is Michael Rhodes’ direction: The movie rambles along steadily, its casual storytelling undercutting the melodrama that might otherwise smother it. There’s also a lot of good acting: Quite aside from her smooth assurance, Clayburgh pulls off Ireland’s English accent without calling attention to herself. And while Henriksen doesn’t resemble Bronson at all, he nonetheless summons up Bronson’s tough-guy inscrutability.
Ultimately, more time in Reason for Living is taken up with Jason’s drug addiction than with Ireland’s cancer — curing him becomes her true reason for living. According to this account, Jason was selfish and spoiled, skilled only at conning people into giving him money for drugs. But Barry manages to make Jason, whom we are told died in 1989 ”of an accumulation of drugs in his system,” seem someone more to be pitied than hated. C