Cable shows like The Big C and now New Zealand writer-director Kirstin Marcon’s comedic drama, The Most Fun You Can Have Dying, exemplify a new attitude toward cancer and how to dramatize it on screen. Once a cue for morose tragedy, cancer is starting to being used by filmmakers as a portal into a kind of ironic existentialism, less a death sentence than a means to look back in anger, and possibly in head-scratching bemusement.
Marcon’s particular take looks, at first, to be caustic and even original. College student Michael (played by Matt Whelan with sufficient cockiness and surliness to reduce the sympathy factor, surprisingly) is diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and sent off by his doctor with strategic advice: have fun, and don’t waste your time. The movie hinges on this instruction, since Michael approaches his fate with as much political incorrectness as possible, and then some. Deciding that he’s going to party and get raging drunk most of the rest of his days, Michael is even chary of being the object of a fundraising campaign in his town to help fund an exotic treatment that costs $200,000.
Rather than apply the funds to try against the odds to get well, Michael takes the money and runs—first to Hong Kong, and then to Europe, where he engages his own unique variation on the Grand Tour. Misadventures ensue, amour is hatched, but this is when Marcon’s movie loses its way. Michael’s rebellion is initially couched as a heroic act of liberation against norms, family, society, and the rest; later, his escape is moralistically viewed as self-indulgent, even if his final act (literally, a death in Venice) is a kind of love letter to his mother, who also died of cancer. The movie’s point of view on its own hero, who becomes an antihero, and then not, is garbled, and it visibly confuses actor Whelan, whose bad-boy charisma points to some interesting performances to come.