Coming-of-age films in which cancer-stricken teens are at the forefront have become a dime-a-dozen concept, and after Then Came You, there needs to be a hold on them for a long period of time. Sure, the young-adult crowd might gobble them up, and some may win the hearts of indie-film lovers at festivals. But when your film practically tells its audience that having cancer means you can get away with anything - and I mean anything - there’s a problem. That is just one of the many reasons why Peter Hutchings’ film is one of the most dreadful experiences so far this year.
The film opens with Skye (Maisie Williams) being told by her doctor that she has terminal cancer. The news doesn’t seem to have a major effect on her, as she responds with a shrug and nonchalantly says, “Win some, lose some.” Her parents are worried, but Skye takes the diagnosis as something that shouldn’t hold her back. It’s the free-spirited, happy-living approach that works for Williams and allows her to turn in a delightful performance, even when the screenplay doesn’t break away from the conventional approach and becomes more tedious as it progresses.
During one of her support-group meetings, she runs into Calvin (Asa Butterfield), who is polar opposite to her. Calvin only thinks he has cancer or some other disease, because he’s a hypochondriac and jots down every single symptom he feels in a notebook. The doctors tell Calvin he’s fine, while his father (David Koechner) is consistently upset that he’s too busy living in fear and not pushing himself to have a better life. Sure, Calvin has a job working at the airport with his dad and brother, but he doesn’t do much else outside of that.
Calvin is so much of a hypochondriac that in the waiting room, he’s reading a pamphlet about testicular cancer and begins to feel himself in front of everyone - prompting a mother to cover her child’s eyes. Something tells me that the police would have actually been immediately notified.
Like every other cancer-stricken character movie, Skye has a list of things she would like to accomplish before her time comes. She calls this her “to-die list.” Calvin accompanies her and learns that, no matter what setbacks come your way, you should live life without fear.
There’s a period of time in which people confuse Calvin as having cancer, since he’s seen by Skye and others in attendance and those who come to pick up their friends or relatives. One of them happens to be Officer Al (Ken Jeong). While crossing off another item off of Skye’s list, which happens to be robbing a store, she hands the bag of items off to Calvin and tells him to run. The store owner tasers him, and Officer Al comes to the scene. He recalls seeing him and says that since he has cancer, he’s giving him a pass on this incident.
It happens on more than one occasion in which Calvin and Officer Al cross paths, while Calvin is doing something illegal or dangerous. Al tells him to move along because he thinks it’s the cancer and the treatment that is making him do such things. It becomes borderline offensive that a movie tells its audience that having cancer means you are free to do whatever you please. And the usually reliable Jeong is forced to deliver terrible dialogue and gives an embarrassing performance as the forgiving officer.
Butterfield has the awkward, 19-year-old persona down, but his performance, even during the moments of change in Calvin’s life, is consistently stiff. He and Williams never click during their moments together, and even when Skye tries to hook Calvin up with the beautiful flight attendant, Izzy (Nina Dobrev), Butterfield never seems to show any kind of enthusiasm in the role.
Then Came You doesn’t even attempt to change the cancer-stricken teen genre, following every single beat that has already been laid out by previous, better films. Williams is the only standout performance, but even the little spark she brings is not enough to overcome the familiar and overly saccharine approach the movie takes.
Then Came You releases to select theaters and VOD on February 1.