Directed by: Peter Hutchings
Written by: Fergal Rock
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Maisie Williams, Nina Dobrev, Tyler Hoechlin, Ken Jeong, Briana Venskus, Tituss Burgess and David Koechner.
Asa Butterfield (Sex Education) and Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) star in indie teen dramedy ‘Departures’, an enjoyably charming but all too familiar film chronicling terminal-illness. Much like Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, the film is touching, heartfelt and surprisingly funny, although the cliched aspects of this genre do make an appearance towards the third act. Thankfully the central friendship between Butterfield and Williams really shines, combined with a fantastic supporting cast, which helps balance the sincerity of the film with the usual tropes we’ve come to expect.
Calvin (Asa Butterfield) is a reclusive and neurotic hypochondriac who’s obsessed with the fact that he thinks he’s dying. He records his temperature and the size of a mole on his chest daily and has made his dad pay for a series of expensive tests just for them to all come back negative. His fear has driven him to drop out of college and he now works as an airport baggage handler alongside his father (David Koechner) and older brother Frank (Tyler Hoechlin). That’s until he meets terminally ill Skye (Maisie Williams) at a cancer support group, who changes everything…
Skye is the complete opposite to Calvin, she’s eccentric and impulsive and determined to tick everything off her ‘To Die’ list. I love her ever changing colourful wigs and cat-eared knit caps! Skye quickly takes Calvin under her wing and the two work together, with the help of two police officers (Ken Jeong and Briana Venskus), to complete Skye’s list. Tasks range from learning to shave a man’s face and busking, to shoplifting and getting arrested, to the more serious like losing her virginity to a classmate. Meanwhile Skye sets up Calvin with his crush, air hostess Izzy (Nina Dobrev) and tries to bring him out of his shell and back to the real World, as she rightly points out “you have a lot of living to do, Calvin Lewis.”
While the story is familiar and slightly predictable, Hutchings and the cast still manage to make it heartfelt and genuine with a good balance of humour and drama. As much as I loved seeing the friendship grow between the two central characters, there did appear to be an over reliance on montages accompanied by a pop music soundtrack when the two are ticking off tasks on the ‘to die’ list. The central romance between Calvin and Izzy is the least interesting part too, although I appreciated that Hutching’s didn’t make Skye Calvin’s love interest. However the film truly excels in the quieter moments, particularly the scene where Frank holds and comforts Calvin during an anxiety attack, and Calvin’s father’s moving speech urging Calvin to come back to the real world, as he doesn’t want to lose anyone else in his family.
The performances from the two leads are really what set this film apart from similar teen dramas such as The Fault in our Stars, as Calvin and Skye really do have an amazing bond. It was so enjoyable to see their friendship grow, especially seeing the effect Skye had on Calvin as she gradually helped him come out of his shell and appreciate living again. Maisie Williams really was fantastic in this, yes at times Skye could be a bit grating and overly kooky, but Williams really nailed the more emotional core of the character. The calibre of the supporting cast was also very impressive, with Ken Jeong, Briana Venskus and Tituss Burgess bringing a whole load of fun and humour to the film, nicely balancing the tone with the more weepy moments! Most surprising though was Anchorman‘s David Koechner, as he delivered a genuinely moving and supportive performance.
Overall there was a lot to like about Departures; there were plenty of enjoyably charming and funny scenes between stars Williams and Butterfield, as well as gut punchingly sad moments too. The impressive supporting cast added a nice depth to the film too, but some more than others felt a little underused. If you’re a fan of films such as The Fault in our Stars and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, then this is definitely one for you!
Departures is available to watch on digital download from 4th March.