A Disney+ Original, “Clouds” follows the story of Zachary David Sobiech, a high school senior who discovers his rare bone cancer, osteosarcoma, is terminal, and he only has months left to live. The film is inspired by Zach’s life and his mother Laura’s memoir, “Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered a Mom’s Prayer in a Big Way,” and pulls together events from his life, details from SoulPancake’s documentary “Meet Zach Sobiech | My Last Days” and a touch of movie magic.
The film begins in the fall of 2012 with Zach (Fin Argus) singing and playing guitar at his school talent show. Shortly after ending years of chemotherapy treatments, he plans a date with his girlfriend, Amy Adamle (Madison Iseman). Unfortunately, the plan is derailed when Zach requires emergency surgery for a collapsed lung and his family learns that Zach’s osteosarcoma spread, making his cancer terminal.
What follows is a collection of moments filled with joy and despair as Zach, Amy, his best friend Sammy Brown (Sabrina Carpenter), his mother Laura (Neve Campbell) and the rest of the Sobiech family make the most out of Zach’s last few months. The performances by the entire cast are equally heartbreaking and uplifting — a perfect reflection of how Zach looked for the best in his tragic situation.
Though the timeline of Zach’s story was modified to better suit the flow of the film, many of its greatest scenes actually happened or were inspired by what Zach said or did in real life.
“I want to be remembered as a kid who went down fighting and didn’t really lose,” Zach said in the film.
Zach spends much of his time writing and performing songs with Sammy and enjoying special times with Amy, the love of his life. By the time he passes away at the end of the movie, Zach’s created wonderful memories and achieved great success and happiness with his music.
After learning of his fatal diagnosis, the Sobiech family travels to Europe so they can visit the grotto in Lourdes, France. The Holy water in the grotto is said to have healing properties, so Zach and his mother both participate in the ritual in hopes of helping Zach feel better. These moments were reflective of the Sobiechs’ trip to Italy and France in March 2012; they wanted Zach to be able to see the world while he was well enough to travel.
Music played a large role in Zach’s life; Zach and Sammy wrote many songs together, forming the group “A Firm Handshake.” Zach and Sammy posted their tune “Clouds” — the film’s namesake — on YouTube, and it was an instant hit. By 2013, the song already had 2 million views, and now it’s reached nearly 15 million views. The song is upbeat and has a boppy rhythm, but when one focuses on the lyrics, it’s clear the song serves as a way for Zach to say goodbye to his loved ones as he prepares to “go up in the clouds.” Much like the rest of the film and Zach’s life, he was able to spread joy and hope during a sad time with his music.
Broadcast Music Inc. discovered Zach and Sammy’s music and signed them as songwriters for the company. A Firm Handshake released an EP titled “Fix Me Up” in 2013, which can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music or purchased on iTunes. The proceeds from the sales of the song “Clouds” go to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund that’s raised almost $2.2 million for cancer research. Since the movie premiered on October 16, Zach’s song reached No. 1 on iTunes for the second time — it happened first in 2013 after he passed — making him the first unsigned artist to top the iTunes charts twice.
Toward the beginning of the film, Zach, Sammy and Amy saw Jason Mraz in concert, where Zach wondered what it would feel like to have his own song sung back to him by fans. At the end of the movie, his family and friends plan a celebration for Zach’s birthday and prom. At the event, Zach and Sammy sing “Clouds,” but with Zach feeling very weak, he struggles to continue performing. Fortunately, the massive audience shows their support and sings his words with him before a flash to white and a montage remembering the real Zach Sobiech begins.
This heartwarming scene is inspired by a video coordinated by Justin Baldoni, the director and producer of the movie as well as the SoulPancake documentary. While filming the documentary, Baldoni said he also wanted to make a music video for “Clouds,” but that wasn’t possible given Zach’s health. Instead, he created a video with the help of Jason Mraz, Ashley Tisdale, Sara Bareilles, Chris Pratt and more celebrities lip syncing to “Clouds,” which he showed to Zach and his family.
In addition to including special moments from Zach’s life, the movie also uses many of Zach’s own clothes and belongings. For example, in a scene when Zach and Sammy are in the studio recording “Clouds,” Fin Argus is wearing Zach’s shirt, playing his guitar and using his crutches. The attention to detail goes to show how much work the cast and crew put in sharing Zach’s story with the world and doing it the right way.
While “Clouds” has plenty of tear-jerking scenes, Zach Sobiech’s story is a true inspiration that leaves the audience with valuable takeaways.
“Every teenager out there feels invincible and they’ll never admit it and it’s not like the kind of invincible like Superman, it’s the kind of invincible like, ‘I’ll see you in five months,’” Zach said in the film. “I want everyone to know you don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living.”
Zach’s fight against cancer is a reminder that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. One would benefit from appreciating and acting on his wisdom. They should be grateful for every day and cherish those around them.
Contact Michael Russo at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.