In life there are those artists you simply appreciate and then there are those that change your life. Andrew McMahon, front man for the piano rock band Jack’s Mannequin, is a musician you won’t soon forget. At the mere age of 27, McMahon has not only been the front man for two successful piano-rock bands, he has fought and won the battle over leukemia. In November came the release of Dear Jack, a compelling documentary of McMahon’s battle with cancer while struggling to maintain his career and personal relationships. The release of this DVD has been long-awaited by fans of McMahon. It is grueling and honest, but most importantly puts a face to the battle with leukemia that most could only previously try to imagine. For cancer patients and friends of victims alike, this documentary is not to be missed.
McMahon’s journey as a musician began at a very young age when he exhibited a remarkable talent for the piano. His first band, Something Corporate, based out of southern California, was signed right out of high school. He toured “dark punk rock clubs” around the world, amazing audiences both young and old with his remarkable live performance skills. After sacrificing personal relationships for the sake of touring, Something Corporate and McMahon decided to take a break. You can’t keep an artist at bay for long, however, and the hiatus of Something Corporate allowed for the creation of Jack’s Mannequin. Originally intended as a side project, Jack’s Mannequin has gone on to release two albums, both receiving critical acclaim.
Dear Jack begins with home video footage of McMahon as a young boy at the piano. The audience is then taken on the ride that is his music career and eventual diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). McMahon was admitted to the hospital the same day he finished mastering the first Jack’s Mannequin album, and received a bone marrow transplant on its release date a few months later. A fiction writer couldn’t possibly create a more poetic story then that of Andrew McMahon, but McMahon’s story is real.
A DV camera originally intended to document the making of Jack's Mannequin's album became the notebook for McMahon's grueling battle. It seems impossible for those without cancer to fully understand what it must be like to battle something so intimidating, but this documentary gives a very raw and honest picture of that struggle.
The viewer will likely be fighting back tears as McMahon goes through the process of losing his hair, receiving chemotherapy and radiation, and finally receiving a bone marrow transplant from his sister. The footage of McMahon in his hospital room is gripping.
The film reveals McMahon's very personal physical and emotional transformation as the disease begins to wear on him. He begins as a strong and confident fighter, but becomes quite shaken after a scary run with pneumonia that could have cost him his life. McMahon, with the help of those closest to him, personally addresses the audience with his personal account of his battle. When McMahon himself is not speaking to the camera, the documentary is narrated by friend and fellow musician Tommy Lee. Interviews with McMahon's sister, parents, and the woman who would become his wife, Kelly, add to the emotional impact of the film.
The documentary begins to wrap up showing McMahon play his first show six months after his journey began. This is especially remarkable considering he was told it would be at least a year from the day he began treatment until he could return to work. Since then, McMahon has gone on to record and release the second Jack’s Mannequin album as well as start the remarkable Dear Jack Foundation which has raised more than $250,000 for cancer research.
As the writer of this review, I know that my words cannot touch the power of Andrew McMahon’s story, but I am filled with the hope that possibly one more person will read this review and thus feel inspired to watch the Dear Jack Documentary. He is truly an artist, a survivor, and a hero.
Run time of the documentary is 80 minutes. It is available both for order and download. An added bonus is the music box version of the song "Swim", filmed almost like a music video and played during the credits.