Cancer, you bitch. She strikes again in this weirdo comedy about a young, prime-of-life dude (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when he’s struck down by a big, bad tumor with an ugly face. Okay, I made up the part about the face.
Lucky for JGL, he has emotionally stunted pal Seth Rogen along for the ride, who’s there to tell him bald is a bad look on him, and that if he was a casino game, his 50/50 odds would actually sound pretty swell.
Adam (JGL) is a super cautious guy. He waits at the cross walk for the signal to turn. He refuses to drive because accidents are a leading cause of death (true, a couple of slots behind cancer, but still). When the doctor tells him of his tumour, his knee-jerk response is “That doesn’t make any sense though. I mean I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I recycle… ” And we agree. It doesn’t make any sense. Cancer doesn’t play by any rules that we’re comfortable with.
Screen writer Will Reiser is using his own experience of cancer in his 20s to inform the script. His friend Seth Rogen was along for the ride and slips very comfortably into recreating the role. In real life, Rogen was apparently on the toilet when Reiser told him his diagnosis but that was deemed too gross to make the movie. They don’t pull many other punches, though: this isn’t your mother’s Terms of Endearment.
This is about a guy in his 20s who gets very sick and faces his own mortality. Does he channel cancer sympathy to get himself laid? Sure he does. Does he consume lots of legal weed? You betcha. Does he have sex with hookers while skydiving? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out, but I will tell you this: it isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
This is a surprisingly grown-up script; it toggles between the drama and the laughs pretty seamlessly. It feels honest. Rogen is vulgar, but decent, and that begins to tug on you in quiet and unexpected ways. Director Jonathan Levine manages not to succumb to the usual morose offerings of the genre and presents something touchingly humane. The excellence in casting extends to Bryce Dallas Howard as a girlfriend found wanting, Anjelica Huston gives a powerful turn as a fuss-budget mother, and Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall are welcome additions as co-cancer buddies. I’ll even magnanimously grant that Anna Kendrick is pretty funny as a newbie therapist trying real hard to walk the line. But it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt who’s leading the pack with a really low-key, uncompromising performance.