Movie Review: To Joey, With Love

I’ll admit it: I had no idea who Joey + Rory were until two years ago. I’ve reached the stage in my life where I listen more to music from my past (hello, Fleetwood Mac and Bon Jovi!) than to current music. So the news of an up-and-coming Christian/country duo wasn’t on my radar at all…until they welcomed a beautiful baby with Down syndrome in 2014. They made news in our DS community because of the way they accepted their birth diagnosis—essentially, “This is a big surprise, but we know this is the baby we were meant to have.” It mirrored the way many of us feel—that this wasn’t necessarily the life we had envisioned, but it’s the one we were given, and we were given it for a reason.

When Joey was diagnosed with cervical cancer shortly after their daughter Indiana’s birth, we in the DS community ached, knowing how hurt this beautiful young mother must feel at the fear of a scary diagnosis while learning to mother her first baby. But when Joey was given a clean bill of health after surgery, we were all relieved and went about our business. Until Joey’s cancer aggressively returned months later.

This all might have gone less noticed except for two things: Joey is one of our own—a mother to a child with Down syndrome. And we’re a tight-knit group. And two, Rory wrote beautiful blog posts about their life during this time—intermixed with joy, hope, grief, and pain. Many of us were glued to his blog, hungrily looking for glimpses of beautiful Indiana while hoping against hope that Joey’s condition would improve.

It didn’t, and while Indy grew bigger and more beautiful, Joey faded, until shortly after Indiana’s second birthday, when she passed away.

Rory had taken countless hours of video starting late in Joey’s pregnancy (before her diagnosis), right up until her death, and with the help of filmmakers he assembled this footage into a documentary/labor of love that is an incredibly tribute to Joey and to the life she shared with their family.

I rarely get to go to the movies, but I really, really wanted to see To Joey, With Love, and it so happened it was playing the night after my mom’s birthday…and I also needed to get her a birthday gift of some sort. Bingo! I’d take her to the movie as a birthday gift, since I knew that she, like me, had followed Rory’s blog about Joey’s battle with cancer.

I was a little worried that the movie would be horribly sad, which would be a pretty depressing birthday treat, but I needn’t have worried. It was sad—heartbreakingly so. But how would it not be, given that we all know Joey passes away? But more than that, it is a truly beautiful, touching love story—to Joey, but also to their whole family. The movie doesn’t focus on Joey’s decline, but rather on Joey’s desire to live and love the best she could, for as long as she could.

Beautiful Indy features prominently throughout, and oh, my heart!! That baby girl reminds me so much of Sam from when he was younger—right down to the way they both scritch-scratched the crib sheets upon waking up! And there’s a scene shortly after Indy’s birth when Joey’s tears drip on her baby daughter, and you can see the pain she’s struggling with as she processes Indy’s diagnosis…but then she smiles through her tears, laughs, and comments that you can’t really be sad when you have such a beautiful little gift. That part went right to my gut, because that was me the first two weeks of Sam’s life—I wasn’t necessarily sad about his diagnosis, but I would randomly break into tears for no reason, and then laugh through them because he was just the most beautiful little thing I had ever seen. Shortly, you can see that Indy’s diagnosis becomes a nonissue for her smitten parents, who delight and amaze in their daughter.

I’m not sure I even know how to describe this movie. It’s not really a Down syndrome movie, because that’s such a small part of their story. It’s not a grief story, because so much of it is focused on life. I guess maybe it’s a love story, but with a tragic ending. But more than anything, I guess I’d call it a really well done, beautiful tribute to a life well lived.

And what I can say is that if you have the chance to see it, you should. You’ll cry, but you’ll also laugh. And you’ll come away appreciating life, love, and everything that goes into it.

To Joey, With Love plays in theaters one more night (October 6th), and if you go to the website you can find theaters showing it. After that, I think it will be released on DVD.

Honestly, this is well worth ninety minutes of your time. And I’m so glad that Rory made this film for Indiana, who is so young that she won’t remember the mother who clearly loved her more than anything. She’ll always have this footage showing her just how much she was loved, and that’s a beautiful thing. I’m just glad Rory decided to share it with the rest of us, too.

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