June Butler takes a look at John Connors’ poignant documentary Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day, which won the coveted “Audience Award for Best Film” at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival in March 2020.
Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day opens with Anthony McCann asking the filmmaker if he wants to hear a joke about Elton John. ‘Well, it’s a little bit funny’… McCann starts to say and then peels away chuckling at the absurd humour of it all.
Anthony McCann’s daughter, Jade McCann was an Irish social media influencer with an Instagram account under the name of JaydaMcCannx and roughly 67 thousand followers. She was like any young woman who posted videos and photographs online – daily life with ups and downs was documented in its sometimes brutal glory. Jade had always pledged that she would be honest in her endeavours and all aspects of her life shown without being edited or filtered. To the last, despite callous comments, trolling, and online bullying, she kept her promise.
In March 2018, Jade McCann was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The devastating news came three weeks after a cancer diagnosis for her father, Anthony. Jade subsequently decided, in collaboration with director John Connors, to make a film detailing the journey of both Anthony and herself.
There is not one single part of this documentary that is not imbued with the overwhelming force of ‘why’. Why Jade? Why Anthony? Jade wonders could she have done anything differently. Is she to ‘blame’ for her diagnosis? It is an agonising, intemperate, tortuous question that cannot be answered. The plea is not about what caused this illness as much as an intense longing to fulfil frustrated dreams. Life not lived. An unarguable full stop, cut off before the meaning of the sentence became apparent. Anthony is as a man possessed. He is less concerned for his own mortality than he is for that of his daughter. At some stage, Anthony goes into remission – news he receives with a tinge of regret. Anthony says that he hoped to die. He maintains that had the illness returned, he vowed to refuse all treatment and pass away alongside Jade. He is adamant that children are meant to outlive their parents and it should not be the other way around. It is a touching elegy to the love between father and daughter.
Jade confides that hurtful comments have ramped up since she admitted to her illness. There is a poignant scene between Anthony and Jade – she starts off by addressing the trolls. Her father joins in with a wry smile, stating that he will hunt down the bullies and deal with them – all said in a humourful way but his eyes mutely plead with them to desist. If he challenges the people writing negative comments and becomes angry, this despair will commute to his daughter and it is obvious that above all, Anthony wants to protect his weakened child. Anthony’s tone is impish but the message is chilling – a woman who is fighting the biggest battle of her young life should not have to tolerate a tiny minority of people who have decided to exploit the circumstances and manipulate Jade for their own gain.
With Jade and Anthony endeavouring to shrug off the abuse, the catcallers continue as malevolent, hidden cast members and enter into the fray when they choose. The documentary proceeds to list increases and decreases in followers depending on news meted out – plus 4k, plus 2k, plus 12k….minus 5k, minus 2k. On and on it goes. No stone is left unturned in the fight for survival – there are moments of hope, quickly replaced by despair. Jade tries to take her own life. She is rushed to hospital and is resuscitated three times. In some footage, Jade is upbeat. In others, bitter, angry, tearfully querulous, raging against her lot. Then at peace until the next pitiful breakdown when Jade speaks emotively about being true to who she is and not allowing others take that away. Jade says she loved music but was verbally ill-treated so badly by her peers, she gave it up. Sold all her instruments, stopped singing. The outlet of music, Jade later realises, was denied to her by the lack of belief she held in her own wondrousness, her essential uniqueness. Jade bewails giving this power to people she barely knew and regrets not bearing witness to being her own cheerleader. At times, Jade is committed to fighting against the pitiless onslaught of an illness that creeps and creeps. She says that there are some nights when she is afraid to fall asleep because upon waking up, there will be a moment of disbelief. Then realisation. Then terror. Followed by reality biting hard. At one stage, Jade says “Cancer doesn’t have me. I have cancer”. She insists that while there are days when the will to fight is hard, she picks herself up and keeps trying. The love of her family is what is most important and Jade comes to this realisation as the disease progresses.
In August 2019, Jade says goodbye to her fans. On 24th of October 2019, Jade passes away. Anthony McCann dies on 3rd January 2020.
Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day is relentlessly sad. It is hard to witness Jade’s suffering as she steels her dwindling will to withstand another round of drugs and chemotherapy. Yet as the final scenes fade, it becomes apparent that John Connors’ sensitive and empathetic documentary is to highlight gratitude. Something so simple yet so often ignored. They say that Hope was the last sentiment held in Pandora’s Box – I believe it was Gratitude. The hidden treasure of realised beauty. Gratitude for every morning and every evening. For a life lived and well lived thus far. For clouds and dreams and drama. Gratitude for the ability to love with all your heart because in the end, nothing else matters.
Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day is available to rent or view on VOD