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A feel-good film about the last months of a dying child, Gustavo Ron‘s Ways to Live Forever imagines a protagonist whose winning curiosity about the world is almost entirely unclouded by fear or anger about the leukemia he knows will kill him. Steering clear of easy viewer manipulation for most of its running time, the heartfelt picture is a well-put-together (if not 100 percent credible) cousin to the familiar made-for-cable illness drama; though its commercial prospects are limited, the U.K.-Spain co-production deserves better than the near-invisible release it is getting on these shores.
Robbie Kay stars as Sam, a bright, good-humored 12-year-old who jumps right in, addressing his camcorder with the upbeat introduction “By the time you see this, I’ll probably be dead.” He and his more sardonic buddy Felix (Alex Etel), who’ve elected to stop cancer treatments that aren’t working, have been talking about immortality with their at-home tutor (Greta Scacchi); at her suggestion, Sam is keeping a journal he hopes will outlive him.
We hear from that journal throughout this voice-over-heavy film, with Sam raising the questions others leave unspoken when dealing with a dying child. Kay does justice to the character’s precocious inquisitiveness, but the consistently upbeat tone of Sam’s inquiry likely worked better in the pages of Sally Nicholls‘ source novel. Onscreen, the boy’s ability to view his impending death with detachment is occasionally tough to believe.
Not that the film glosses over the effect Sam’s illness has on his family, particularly on a brainy father (Ben Chaplin) who can hardly bear to speak of his son’s condition aloud. The film is at its most graceful when Chaplin is onscreen, balancing a father’s looming grief with the filmmakers’ need for silver linings.
The film finds its shape by observing as Sam checks items off an impromptu bucket list, managing feats like the establishment of the world’s smallest nightclub and an airship ride that doubles as a shamelessly long episode of product placement. The list also affords Sam a romantic encounter that, though sweet, is the film’s most bald concession to coming-of-age cliche.
Production Company: El Capitan Pictures
Cast: Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox, Greta Scacchi, Robbie Kay, Alex Etel, Phyllida Law, Natalia Tena, Ella Purnell
Director-screenwriter: Gustavo Ron
Based on the book by: Sally Nicholls
Producers: Martyn Auty, Javier Gazulla
Executive producers: Andres Barbe, Sandra Jobling
Director of photography: Miguel P. Gilaberte
Production designer: Jason Carlin
Music: Cesar Benito
Costume designer: Susannah Buxton
Editor: Juan Sanchez
Rated PG-13, 90 minutes
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