What a tightrope this movie is. Director Jonathan Levine and screenwriter Will Reiser take a few spills early on. The doctor who gives Adam the diagnosis is too stridently impersonal—a scene worthy of the dire Diablo Cody. It’s a mistake to have Adam haltingly break the news to his protective mother, Diane (Anjelica Huston), by asking if she’s seen Terms of Endearment: Now were in Neil Simon country. But things improve when Diane tries frantically to make him drink green tea because it (supposedly) cuts the risk of cancer by 15 percent—to which Adam cries, “I already have cancer.” The pacing helps. Huston and Gordon-Levitt get a good babble going, and Rogen’s driving timing is as sharp as anyone’s: Watch Kyle use Adam’s cancer to generate sympathy in pretty girls, briskly compensating for his friend’s cynical rejoinders: “He still has his sense of humor! It’s inspirational!” Bryce Dallas Howard has been fighting her demure good looks in movies like The Help, and she’s marvelous as Adam’s artist girlfriend, who knows the right supportive lines but can’t begin to cope with someone losing hair and puking: The harder she tries, the more she radiates insincerity.
But the movie belongs to Gordon-Levitt and Anna Kendrick as his painfully green therapist. Gordon-Levitt still shows traces of the sitcom juvenile he was—now wasting away in front of us, his wide mouth grimly set. He’s the third patient of Kendrick’s Katherine, who hasn’t learned not to sound as if she’s following a script. She’s terrible at what she does, at least at this juncture, but what comes through—as she backtracks and restarts and blurts ahead—is her desire to be liked, to be helpful, to show empathy. Willful perkiness has never seemed so poignant. You want him to survive so they can smooch.
Shot more than six years ago, heavily edited by many hands, Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret is finally ready for release. No wonder it took so long. The last hour is a fiasco, full of mismatched shots, subplots from nowhere, and 360-degree pans that make you want to ship the director to film school. But the first hour and change is jaw-dropping in a good way—that distinctive Lonergan way, the characters given their tongues and allowed to go wherever their fancies (and neuroses) take them, story structure be damned. Anna Paquin plays Lisa, the too-poised Manhattan 17-year-old who inadvertently triggers a fatal bus crash and spends a long time acting out before … acting.* It’s an amazingly brave, all-out performance, marred only by atrocious cinematography. J. Smith-Cameron plays her actress mother, Jeannie Berlin the best friend of the victim, Kieran Culkin the laid-back hipster Lisa invites to take her virginity. This is the first bad movie that has ever made me call for a sequel—to get it all right.
*This article has been corrected to show that Paquin's character is named Lisa, not Margaret.