Pic wisely follows the structure of Sally Nicholls’ novel, and treats the chirpy, spiky-haired Sam (Robbie Kay) as a kind of narrator by having him keep a video diary. Sam reveals much about himself when, while making a list of important things about himself, the fact that he has leukemia merits only fourth place. Two other lists — “Things I Want to Do,” and “Questions Nobody Answers” (for example, “Why do children have to die?”) — give the pic its structure.
His parents, Amanda (Emilia Fox) and Daniel (Ben Chaplin), are doing their best, though Daniel is remote and withdrawn. Pic shuttles between the sometimes tense scenes of family life and sections in which Sam sets about fulfilling various dreams, including breaking a world record, riding in an airship and being a teenager.
Sam’s best friend, Felix (Alex Etel), is also afflicted with cancer, and his cousin Kaleigh (Ella Purnell) reps Sam’s romantic interest. As issues of mortality come to the fore, things darken considerably, and the final scenes turn into a satisfying tissue-fest.
Pic as a whole is as winning as its protag. Down-to-earth, fizzing with energy and never merely cute, Kay rarely fails to strike the right note as Sam, whose insights (“If you’re not ill, nobody cares about whether you ride a bike or not”) give the film much of its charm. As Amanda, Fox is given no emotional journey and feels stranded, but Chaplin, in a wonderfully controlled perf, comes into his own after Daniel finds Sam’s diary and decides to become his son’s friend for the rest of his short life.
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