If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Trying to find humor in such a horrifying situation as having cancer or having someone that you love suffer with cancer is an incredibly tough thing to do but credit must be given to Seth Rogen, Jonathan Levine, Will Reiser and everyone else involved in the making of this film for pulling it off tremendously. This is a concept that could've gone horribly wrong if it was made in the wrong hands but the movie and the filmmakers know what they're attempting to do and therefore the story manages to steer itself through the clearing in order to bring it home to something real. That's the biggest compliment that this or any movie can merit, it feels real and honest.
It's about a young man named Adam who lives a very normal and mundane life with an ideal girlfriend, an ordinary lifestyle and a single best friend to keep him company as he struggles to get through the normal day-to-day activities of life. In a single moment, his world is turned on its ear when he discovers that the odd pains in his back are the cause of a rare form of cancer caused by genetic cell composition and not by the excessive use of tobacco, drugs or alcohol. This sends him into a tailspin since he's left to ponder why he had to be among millions of others who have been diagnosed with this awful condition and it calls into question many of the relationships he's forced to deal with as they realize that they could lose him within a very short period of time. The thing that really makes the execution of this story work is that it feels like you're actually watching a real human being going through the trials of dealing with his mortality. Since Will Reiser wrote this movie partially from his own experiences of fighting cancer, he really understands more than any other young writer out there what it's like and he lends this incredibly realistic portrayal of cancer that other movies of this kind drastically lack. Other movies of this type often lack the brutal honesty of certain aspects of the situation this film shows us that even the darkest places in time still have humor and it takes a certain perspective to really find, understand and ultimately appreciate the humor of it. The movie never takes shots at the actual disease itself. It takes shots at all the things we expect to see in these kinds of stories and it serves more or less as a parody or a satire of the clichés that have been laid down by other cancer films while also telling the story of a real life experience into a beautifully realized first-person character study. No other person could've written this story other than Will Reiser because we've seen the third-person perspective of the family and friends of the victim time and again and they tend to end up in roughly the same place every time while everything is treated almost too serious for anyone to get any real enjoyment of it. Since Reiser has thankfully lived through his ordeal, he saw everything for how it really has and he wrote a beautiful story that was the opposite of everything we've been taught about this topic and one that tells us never to give up hope on anything or anyone in our lives.
Reiser's heartfelt script isn't the only great thing about this film either. There are choices that Jonathan Levine makes as a director that really add to the effect of the character study especially in the visual department. The two scenes in particular that really impressed me were the scene where Adam is told that he has cancer and when we actually experience tripping out on marijuana in a hospital along with Adam and those moments in particular really bring you into the movie because they're so well done and so cleverly thought out when it comes to visual composition. Levine also manages to draw competent performances from everyone from the lead actor to the extras. Some have been complaining about Seth Rogen's character and his performance but the movie wouldn't have worked and wouldn't have been made without him as a producer. Without him, this movie would've been one of those melodramatic cancer movies because another producer and team would've made changes of their own and since this is a tough movie to sell especially to a mainstream audience due to the script's honest nature along with its comedic sensibilities, it would've been butchered without Seth Rogen. He was there for Will Reiser every step of the way when it came to his battle with cancer so this makes it a very personal story for him. Sure the character may seem out of place for some people when they come across this kind of movie but I thought that he fit perfectly especially towards the end because he's actually the kind of friend one would both need and want for the series of circumstances one that happens in the film. He gives the reason to hope and to laugh because Adam certainly isn't finding the happiness in it and he's actually the heart of the film. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Adam's girlfriend, Rachael, and despite the fact that she does some things that really make your blood boil when it comes to her relationship with Adam, one could see her reasoning for her actions but that doesn't make her actions right in the end. Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall both turn in hilarious performances as fellow cancer patients that Adam meets along the way of his diagnosis and treatment. Anna Kendrick who plays Katie, Adam's therapist, really shines in this movie and she's proving herself more and more to be one of the finest young actresses around along with continuing to being as cute as a teddy bear. She really develops as this great, lovable and relatable character as Adam and her get to know each other throughout the film. Yet one of the biggest highlights of the film is Anjelica Huston and her excellent performance! Not only is she given a character with a lot of meat and dimension but when she's given a character like this, she just takes it and creates magical sparks on the screen especially when she's in the same room with Adam, her on-screen son, which is pretty much most if not all of her presence in the movie. Like Seth Rogen's Kyle, Anjelica Huston's Diane acts like the kind of mother that anyone would want to have there if they were diagnosed with cancer.
However, the big story when it comes to the acting is the lead actor who plays Adam: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It's just amazing to see how far he's come since 3rd Rock from the Sun. He's done that, he's managed to co-star with Heath Ledger in his breakout role in the teen classic 10 Things I Hate About You, he's impressed critics all over with his daring roles in films like Mysterious Skin, Brick, The Lookout, Stop-Loss, (500) Days of Summer and Hesher whilst steadily making his name better known in big budget fare like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Inception. Now with this film, he's managed to finally find a role that could be worthy of garnering awards along with starring in four films in the next year including the finale of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy that is The Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis. It's not a bad time to be this guy when you're getting the chance to work with two of your acting idols (Day-Lewis & Gary Oldman), to be in a Batman film and being whispered about for award consideration. But regardless of all this, it's his movie and he takes the role of Adam and completely owns every single second that he's on screen. While his performance is more subtle and introspective than most, it's this downplaying of Adam that makes him captivating to watch and when he gets a chance to show his abilities in a scene where he just breaks down, that's enough to get him a possible shot at an Oscar nomination because in that single moment of violent and hateful pain, he was nearly able to break me down into tears in that single moment. That's how powerful his acting is here. His work in this movie is more admirable than most performances of any actor because like Brad Pitt's Billy Beane in Moneyball, it's not showy and he plays the role with a quiet subtlety that sometimes puts his physical acting over his delivery of the lines and in a culture where line delivery can change a performance from being stellar to iconic instead of the other way around, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives the boldest performance that he's possibly done in his career and that's worthy enough of recognition. Even though Seth Rogen gives the movie heart and humor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt balances that out by being the soulful anchor to everything that happens with Adam and his journey towards possible recovery.
The cinematography by Terry Stacey is beautiful and haunting at the same time as it brings out the vibrance of the lights and darks in every shot of the movie. That kind of visual aesthetic really adds to the mood and it really affects how the audience will perceive the outcome of this story because you will have no clue of what will happen to Adam until the final scenes of the film. By not shooting it with ever-present light or darkness in the lighting scheme, the audience won't be able to subconsciously predict Adam's fate and I think the blending of the two really equals that effect on the viewer. Zene Baker's editing is clean and Michael Giacchino's score is gracefully used and those two elements also make a big difference in the movie's tone and pacing. The ending was everything that I could wish for in the best way since I thought that the movie would cop out and do something to make a split ending when it came to Adam's ultimate fate but it thankfully had an ending from the very beginning and it was decisive about it. The ending scenes were so great that just before the lynchpin for the third act, there was a final scene between Adam and his mother that made me well up with tears because it was so well realized and it said everything that it needed to say for the whole movie that it was just more than I could bear and contain.
If you're looking for a movie to see and you want to go on an experience, this is the movie for you but prepare to possibly bring a tissue or two because while it's hilarious, it's quite possible that you could start to tear up by the end especially if you're young like me since it really taps into something that every person deals with. If you miss out on this movie, you're possibly missing out on one of the greats.
Rating: Full Price!!