A cute kid dying of cancer is usually a surefire way for filmmakers to get the tears flowing, but despite a few powerful moments, this children’s-book-turned-movie isn’t designed to make its audience cry. As Sam (Robbie Kay) narrates his thoughts and talks directly to us through his video diaries, the overarching sentiment of Ways to Live Forever is curiosity. Does dying hurt? How does someone live forever? Why can’t he talk about these things with his dad (Ben Chaplin)? Kay charismatically delivers Sam’s matter-of-fact acceptance of his fate—reminiscent of a young Nicholas Hoult in About a Boy or Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Love, Actually. All he wants in his remaining days is to get through some of his bucket list: see a ghost; fly in an airship; become a scientist; and smoke, drink, and have girlfriends, as teenagers do. The fun vignettes that surround these wishes offset the urges to mourn a life cut short, but when fellow cancer patient Felix succumbs to his illness, the weight of reality sets in. Only in these last few chapters does the tone dip into the bittersweet. The rest is told in the simplistic musings of a child speaking to his peers and grieving parents, never straying from sweet innocence. The illusion soothes us with the reassurance that everything will be OK, but we adults know too well that peace is not so easily achieved.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 17, 2013