The writer of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel takes on teenage terminal illness... Pass the hankies, would you?
"I know it’s heavy stuff, but let’s just try and keep it upbeat.” These are the crass words spoken by a radio host to Tessa (Dakota Fanning), a teenager with terminal leukaemia. Refusing to play along, she makes him look like a fool. And yet the film struggles to strike the right tone every bit as much as our errant DJ.
Jenny Downham’s 2007 novel, 'Before I Die', has had its title emotionally repurposed as the altogether more cosy Now is Good. The film follows the final months of a terminally ill 17-year-old. And – title aside – it doesn’t shy away from the heavy stuff. The wretched pain of a father (Paddy Considine) who wants to protect a daughter he cannot save buffets against the desperate rebelliousness of a young girl who wants to experience as much as she can in the time she has left.
But the film is also littered with cheap romanticism: there are slow-motion kisses beneath fireworks, wild horses that run alongside motorbikes, and embraces silhouetted by golden sunsets. It’s a shame that writer/director Ol Parker (who penned recent silver-dollar magnet The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) has chosen to undermine the poignancy of his story this way.
Initially the film has a wonderful authenticity. Instead of the conventional twentysomethings in school uniform, Tessa and friends feel like genuine teenagers. They yell at their parents and kiss gauche, rat-faced boys. Then Adam (Jeremy Irvine, looking like a baby Abercrombie & Fitch model) sweeps Tessa off her feet, and Parker haplessly unplugs the dam of teen romance clichés.
A countercast Considine is heartbreaking as the grieving father while Fanning confirms her skill as a performer by managing to remain convincing even as the script strays into absurdity. But as the two-dimensional Perfect Boyfriend, Irvine chases any sense of reality from the screen. The film also features an uncomfortable pro-life subplot wherein Tessa’s best friend Zoey (Kaya Scodelario) gets pregnant after having sex with one of those rat-faced boys.
She plans to have an abortion, but Tessa talks her out of it. That’s all very well, yet Parker depicts this as a happy conclusion to a potentially tragic situation. Is this an irresponsible message to have in a film marketed towards adolescent girls? Romanticising teenage pregnancy is as tasteless as, say, asking a dying girl to remain upbeat.
The premise doesn’t sound promising but Dakota Fanning can be delightful.
Moments of devastating family anguish will leave you in tears.
But that doesn’t make up for the idiotic scenes in between.