As unorthodox pitches go, they don’t come much more eyebrow-raising than this: romcom queen Kate Hudson stars alongside arthouse king Gael Garcia Bernal in a “life-affirming” dramedy with The Woodsman director Nicole Kassell behind the camera. Plus Whoopi Goldberg as God.
But what’s most unexpected about this mishmash of elements is how well it all ultimately hangs together.
Marley (Hudson) is a free-spirited thirtysomething, single by choice, successful at work, and living life to the full. When she’s diagnosed with terminal cancer, her boundless joie de vivre shows no signs of yielding, but the news does lure her into a romance with her doctor (Bernal), forcing her to finally open up to love in the face of imminent death.
Nothing about it should work, from the vaguely nauseating promise of a journey of self-discovery (think Eat, Pray, Love with an expiry date), to Hudson’s motor-mouthed, unerringly sunny heroine.
Props to scribe Gren Wells, then, who’s careful to undercut Marley throughout – in one on-the-button moment Bernal exclaims: “I’ve never met anyone who talks so much, and says so little.”
It’s been easy to forget of late, but Hudson’s got chops. Here, she gracefully walks a razor’s-edge between farce and tragedy as Marley’s condition worsens, crucially never allowing her to be a martyr.
There’s an elusive quality to Bernal’s boundless charisma that lends his Dr Goldstein a shade of insta-intrigue, while Kathy Bates and Rosemarie DeWitt round out the high-calibre cast as overbearing mum and preggers best friend respectively.
There’s no getting away from the melodrama at the film’s core, but though the third act threatens to stray into cliché, Wells’ script remains restrained, showing more than telling.
The only true clunkers come when Whoopi makes her godly cameos in a cloud-lined, sub-Lovely Bones take on heaven, a pair of bafflingly misjudged scenes that diminish what’s otherwise a surprisingly measured treatment of a tricky subject.
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While the marriage of fluffy comedy and terminal illness was always going to be an uncomfortable one, this is an understated, genuinely poignant weepie bolstered by a top-drawer cast.