Hearing that a movie regarding a young man’s struggle with cancer is going to be a comedy sets up a lot of weird expectations. For one thing, you expect that the inevitable drama of the situation will overcome the humorous tones you have been led to expect. You expect that you have seen all the best parts in the trailers. You expect some kind of political message to be shoehorned into a narrative that, for all other intents and purposes should be deeply personal.
That is what I thought, anyway. Trying to explain your premise to my friends led to a lot of skeptical looks and coy smiles, as well. They all thought they knew what I was getting into with you, too. What none of us could have guessed, however, was that you would live up to the strange promises you made and turn out to be a truly singular, affecting, and – most importantly of all – funny film. More surprising is that your story isn’t just a framework on which to hang off-color jokes and situations, but a real and integral part of your success.
Adam is a reporter for Seattle Public Radio with his long-time friend Kyle, where he simply cannot finish a story on a dormant volcano. He is in a recently-sexless relationship with Rachel, an aspiring abstract artist. His mother is a tightly-wound woman who cannot allow him a moment’s peace. Life, in general, is poor but tolerable. However, when he goes to a doctor to see about his chronic back pain he learns that he has a rare, nearly unpronounceable form of cancer that will require rounds of chemotherapy before an eventual surgery.
That you manage to find comedy at the outset of this tale is admirable, but expected. Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are perfect foils for one another. Their friendship is believable and honestly felt, and both of their initial reactions to the news are hilariously indicative of their characters. Likewise, sullen Adam’s uncomfortable confession to his mother sets the tone for the rest of their relationship throughout your run perfectly. Stunningly, very little of your humor is black or related to death – instead, it is human and touching, filled with a deep understanding of the kind of real life situations and interactions that are deeply funny without having to feel forced into humor.
Your actors all bring this aura of hapless well-meaning to life in their own way. Anjelica Huston is the sort of neurotic, overly protective mother who everyone fears one day having to confront. Seth Rogan dials down his usual mania to deliver a more subtle and nuances performance than one would expect from him. His partying and flirting all take on a slight tone of desperation that makes it clear that he has no other way to reach out to or comfort his friend. Best of the lot, however, is Anna Kendrick as Katie, Adam’s therapist, whose inexperience and pathos shine through in every scene she is in. One is never in doubt of her heartfelt desire to help Adam, who is himself a font of uncertainty and clumsiness.
That this ensemble somehow coheres into a single moving portrait of a life filled with people is another triumph of your direction and writing, right alongside your surprising wellspring of humor. Yet from Rachel’s obliviousness regarding Adam’s pain due to her own trouble dealing with the news to Kyle’s attempts to exploit Adam’s situation for both of their gain, you never cease to find the lighthearted truth at the heart of your story – no one knows what to do in a situation like this. Everyone – patient, family, first-time therapist – is just as inept and unpracticed at dealing with cancer as everyone else.
This is your real boon and strength. You do not pretend there is a magic bullet to cure the hero’s predicament. No matter what happens, no matter what anyone says, no matter what he reads or does, his odds never change. His chance for survival is an immovable ratio of success to failure. What counts, though, is that there are people around him who care enough to fail so brilliantly at taking his mind off of that. Laughter is the best medicine, some say, and if that is true, each of these actors is a practiced doctor, and you are a walk-in clinic.
Behind you 100 percent,
Brian J. Roan