In Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day, director John Connors looks into the private side of a public life, in a first-hand account of the late Jade McCann and her father Anthony’s parallel battles with cancer.
Jade, a popular social media influencer, is known online as @JaydaMcCannx. The film begins in January 2018. At this time, Jade has 12,000 followers on Instagram where she shares updates on her life and family.
A supercut of social media stories shows Jade applying make-up, playing the guitar and goofing around with her family. The impression here is of glossy, filtered happiness that is typical of social media.
Anthony and Jade are shown to be very much alike. In a pre-title sequence, we cut between black and white close-ups of father and daughter where the high contrast of the lighting draws attention to the similarities in their facial structure and mannerisms. A little later, the word “stubborn” gets bandied about in describing themselves and each other.
Through footage from Jade’s Snapchat and Instagram stories, we see that Anthony plays a big part in his daughter’s online life as well.
Early scenes show Jade attempting to cheer him up following a recent cancer diagnosis. She has some degree of success and we can see plainly that Jade means everything to her father. Try as she might to annoy him, he has nothing but smiles and patience for her antics.
Connors cleverly uses the grammar of internet vlogs to move us through the narrative. Inter-titles are used frequently and present us with matter-of-fact updates on Anthony’s treatment as well as its effect on Jade’s follower count.
We quickly get used to the film’s rhythm: a life event happens, we see a title card, paired with an update on followers. When Jade vlogs about her father’s condition we see an uptick in followers after bad news, and a dip with good news.
We get the sense that beyond wanting to support Jade through a tough time there is also an element of spectacle to her struggles that people glom onto. #MiseryLovesCompany, after all.
Then, Jade becomes aware of her own cancer. Again, this is presented through white text on a black background and stitched together in-car diary entries. Following the diagnosis we see a significant increase in followers.
Early in the film Jade talks about the differences between the real world and online. When you’re online, she tells us, you can put the best version of yourself forward and present a version of yourself that isn’t necessarily the person you are in your daily life. What happens then, when your online self has no choice but to be real?
Outside of the footage taken from Jade’s social media, most of Connors’ film is presented in a verité black and white. When combined with the direct-to-camera interviews that make up much of the film’s running time, it becomes impossible not to notice the changes in the faces of McCann family as the cancer and heartache takes a toll.
Connors and cinematographer Tiernan Williams use the film’s high-contrast photography as a way of cutting through the filtered world of social media. It formalises the distinction that Jade speaks about at the start of the documentary: that of the real world and what we see online.
As the timeline moves along, so too does the ebb and flow of social media. With every bit of bad news, Jade’s follower count increases by 1,000 or 2,000 people – people who feel as though they own a piece of her story.
We see footage of Jade asking that people respect her privacy and her family. There is frustration and sometimes anger at her situation and the expectation for her to put it out to the Web.
Still, that McCann stubbornness comes through and Jade uses her reach and influence for good. She speaks candidly about her illness, about women’s reproductive health and her treatment for PEComa.
Given the rare nature of Jade’s cancer, the McCann’s explore every possible avenue and more often than not come up against dead ends. Offline, there’s an ebb and flow too. In one instance, an inter-title catches the viewer off-guard and lands a sucker punch: Jade tried to take her own life.
We’re told she was resuscitated three times following her suicide attempt. She takes this as a sign that she’s meant to live and keep on fighting.
Later scenes are pitched somewhere between heart-warming and heart-breaking. Anthony and his wife Kim go through a family photo album showing us photos of Jade throughout her life, and Jade is shown in a sequence performing a song to the camera and talking us through her regret in having given up on being a musician.
The film climaxes with a burst of colour. Up until now, the full-frame photography has been presented to us only in black and white. Meanwhile, the film’s finale of sorts is a full-colour montage made to look like a music video and featuring Jade singing “The Parting Glass”.
The effect of seeing this overtly cinematic, stylised colour after spending so much time in the grounded realm of documentary realism is significant. Moments earlier, Jade explains that she sees no point in spewing venom at the world and hopes that her story will spark compassion in others.
That the closing sequence filmed a few weeks before Jade’s death shows Jade and family smiling in the face of death and despair speaks to Endless Sunshine’s appeal. It is a poignant picture but it’s not a morbid one.
Connors’ film is instead a celebration of someone that took that best version of herself that she presented online into the real world, inspiring those around her to live life as she did, with a resolute positivity and no regrets.
Endless Sunshine on a Cloudy Day is available to rent on Vimeo until 27 April.