What I appreciate most about this cancer/buddy movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen — besides the fact that someone bothered to make a cancer/buddy movie at all — are its moments of rare honesty. Rare for the culture, I mean.
JG-L plays Adam, the 27-year-old who discovers he has an uncommon form of spinal cancer, by combining his character’s physical fatigue with its adjunct despair so that they seem aspects of the same thing — the weariness of having to face his friends’ and family’s inability to accept, or even talk about, his seemingly inevitable death. Facing his inept psychologist, with whom he eventually forms a relationship, Adam gets sick of her attempt to “make him feel better,” claiming that everyone’s well-wishes and optimism are unwarranted and that it would be more helpful to just tell him, dude, you’re dying.
He doesn’t die and neither did the real person upon which the story is based. He also happens to be the screenwriter. Yet the film allows the character that despair and that’s something I appreciate having gone through chemotherapy and radiation myself for the last few months. Every move is a force of will, physically and psychically, particularly since I’m on my own the vast majority of my time.
I didn’t appreciate, however, the awkward and unrealistic way the operation is dramatized — no surgeon is going to come out of a delicate 8-hour operation on a person with a tumor on his spine and say, “He’s going to be all right.” I got the sense that the filmmakers wanted to rush right past this part and everything post-op for some reason. Before I knew that the screenplay was based on a real story, I had thought that the somewhat unbelievable denouement was the result of not wanting to kill off JG-L or his character’s richly portrayed friendship with Seth Rogen’s Kyle, which isn’t rushed at all.