The reason this film about a 27 year old guy with cancer is good, is because it feels true as well as being funny. And the reason it feels true is because it happened to the guy who wrote the script. And rather than Hollywoodising it out of existence, it's been presented in a delightful way.
Adam (the 27 year old - Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a nice guy. He puts up with his girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), although best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) doesn't like her. He has an over-anxious mother (Anjelica Huston) and a dad with Alzheimer's. He works for a radio station, runs, doesn't do anything to excess, and might justifiably regard himself as a candidate for a long and healthy life.
However, when he goes to see the doctor about his back pain, it turns out that he has a tumour on his spine, and - according to the internet - has a 50/50 chance of survival. Gulp. What is as interesting as his reaction to this news is the reaction of those around him. Rachel clearly finds it hard to muster up much of the Florence Nightingale spirit; Kyle plays the whole thing for laughs, but is resolutely loyal; his mother worries even more than usual; and his dad still doesn't know who he is. And when he's referred to a psychotherapist (Anna Kendrick) for support counselling, he finds that she's only 24, and pretty new to the game. The only people with whom he feels any real connection are his fellow chemo-sufferers, who offer him dope-filled biscuits.
Will Reiser is the guy to whom a version of this happened, and who wrote the script with Seth Rogen, who happened to be a friend of his. According to them, the original script was trying too hard to be funny, and was less able to allow for other people's perspectives. In which case, they did a good job of removing the excess baggage and keeping the stuff in what makes the film work so well - a combination of humour, sadness, romance and just a little bit of grossness (courtesy of S Rogen, of course).
Illness is not usually a hot romcom topic, but then your average American romcom is more concerned with cheesy and improbable situations, involving weddings or flatulence (or both), with little regard for the main reality of life which is death. And somehow having death as the bottom line of the movie makes everything in it work so much better. Just as making Adam an only partially sympathetic character ensures that the film feels rounded and grounded, not superficial and false. You'll gather I liked it, a lot. Apart from a few quibbles about music, there's not much I would change, and particular credit to a cast who are uniformly excellent, with special praise to Anna Kendrick for managing to make confusion, intelligence and awkwardness very attractive.
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