Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a 27 year-old writer is happy in his work and lives with Rachael, a painter, but he has not been feeling well. He goes for tests. The doctor—without looking him in the eye—bluntly tells him that he has spinal cancer and needs chemotherapy. With the support of his good friend, Kyle (Seth Rogan), Adam begins his treatments. Together they shave his head and he bonds with the much older men being treated at the clinic. Rachael promptly takes up with another man and Adam throws her out. He is assigned a 24 year-old psychotherapist, Katherine  (Anna Kendrick) who is out of her depth in dealing with his condition and his fears, but they have an affinity for each other that will eventually “conquer all.”

Adam has an uneasy relationship with his mother (Anjelica Huston), a domineering personality who is coping with her husband’s slide into dementia.  His illness forces him to see more of his parents and he slowly realizes how much she cares for him and wants to help; however, he avoids her and rarely volunteers any information.

In another encounter with the inept doctor, Adam learns that the chemotherapy hasn’t worked and he is referred for surgery. The woman surgeon’s bedside manner is even worse: incredibly, she meets him for the first time only as he is being wheeled into the operating room. 

But the surgery is a success, and the film closes with Adam and Katherine falling into each others arms -- a disappointingly happy Hollywood ending.


This movie addresses the perennial theme of life-threatening illness in a young person. The principle actors are strong and perhaps the major point of the film is the “patient experience” angle. Cancer patients sometimes do face abandonment by close friends and they must deal with the additional burden of having to console family and friends confronting the horror of their own mortality through that of a loved one.

The cozy-ness and philosophical comraderie of the three older men on chemo will be recognizable for those who have encountered those treatments.

The growing love between the young psychotherapist and her patient will raise questions about professional ethics.

Illness sometimes brings clarity and healing. Adam learns of Rachael’s duplicity, and he reconciles with his mother because he is sick.

The physician and surgeon have such appalling clinical skills as to be mere caricatures. One is left wondering why it was necessary to portray them in that clumsy way. But vignettes of those scenes might provide stimulating talking points for students, by demonstrating exactly what not to do at the bedside. The film might have gained credibility with more empathic portrayals of the professionals. On the other hand, this insensitivity may well be an accurate portrayal of a patient's view -- even when the doctors think they are being kind. 

Primary Source

Summit Entertainment