This movie absolutely excels in its realistic details. There are no major metaphors, and it doesn’t try to offer some fancy overwrought soliloquy on the nature of sickness, death, and loss; it’s a movie that reports on its subject in unsettling but clarifying detail, like wearing glasses for the first time after you can’t read the chalkboard. Ironically, it’s the honest singularness of depicting one family’s struggle that ends up making the themes resonate on a more general level, evoking the big common human emotions relating to death. Cancer for many is what happens to “other people,” but the success of this movie is that it’s sincerity renders cancer not so “othered.”
The plot sometimes veers into attempts at comedic relief that don’t quite hit, but the performances of Plemons and Shannon mostly make up for that. Joanne giving David his own “birch trees” moment by reminding him he needs only to “see his sisters” when he misses her is one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve seen in recent years. Because, again, it’s not overwrought; it’s real, sincere, specific, and true.