When a film comings along touting a relationship between a terminally ill character and a clearly healthy one, there’s a big chance said film is going to fall into a heap of expected tropes. Even a charming cast can’t save a film bent on utilizing illness as a character journey for someone else. Surprisingly, the latest Shout Studios film, the Peter Hutchings-directed Then Came You, avoids virtually every trope you’d expect and has a cast that elevates the emotionality of the script for a genuine impact.
Skye (Maisie Williams) is terminally ill yet determined to make the most of what’s left of her time. Conversely, Calvin (Asa Butterfield) is perfectly healthy yet determined to find the illness he believes he has. She pushes boundaries, takes advantage of people’s sympathies, and generally causes trouble. He’s terrified of the world, prefers his routine, and keeps to himself. After a chance meeting, a strange friendship is born, one in which they both find a kindred spirit who gets them without judgement or concern. That kind of friendship brings freedom to them both, offering a chance to embrace the things that terrify them. For Skye, that means tackling her “To-Die” list; while for Calvin, that means building the courage to face the world, including asking out the girl, Izzy (Nina Dobrev), he likes from a distance.
As touching as it is refreshing, first-time feature writer Fergal Rock’s script doesn’t attempt to deify Skye or her illness in any way, shape, or form. Then Came You isn’t interested in making Skye a martyr, Calvin her savior, or vice-versa. Instead, Then Came You is more excited to craft a tale of friendship and love approached from a viewpoint of people in need coming together not out of some desire to save the other, but with a great deal of awkwardness and trust, the very way friendships are often born. When the characters first meet, Calvin is at his first cancer support group and Skye’s returning after an absence. Based on simple staging, Calvin conveys deep discomfort in the presence of the other group members, barely able to look at any of the participants; whereas Skye obviously sees the entire program as a joke, tossing out sarcastic remarks to anyone in earshot. It’s a simple introduction for the characters to each other, immediately establishing their personal perspective, as well as their power dynamic. This becomes particularly important as the story unfolds and the details of each character’s life slide into focus. Additionally, and of course this speaks to the performances as well, the script isn’t focused on pretense. While Skye and Calvin’s actions are largely driven by her illness, the illness doesn’t define her and neither character treats it as if it does. They dress up in costumes, perform Shakespeare in the park, and get into various hijinks, essentially everything you’d expect in a standard coming of age tale. This goes miles in ensuring that Then Came You doesn’t fall into the aforementioned trope. By treating Skye as a whole person and having Calvin’s hypochondria be a symptom of a larger issue, Then Came You abandons the expected, grounding the film in something far more interesting.
As strong as the script it, the performances really make it work. Fans of The CW’s Supergirl are already familiar with Tyler Hoechlin’s talent for making the most saccharine dialogue come across as genuine in his role as Superman. Though he’s not in the film long, there’s a particular moment that shines above them all. Teased in the trailer, it sees him, as Calvin’s brother Frank, refocusing Calvin through a panic attack. It’s abrupt, loving, and abrasive without ever curtailing focus. Similarly, David Koechner, an actor better known for chewing scenery in comedies, creates a wonderful sense of homebase for Calvin, largely through his physical presence. In his role as Calvin’s father, Koechner is given an opportunity to present himself as something more. While through most of the film he’s as amiable as ever, in one particular scene, as years of emotion come bubbling to the surface, Koechner displays incredible heart, opening himself in a way atypical for the actor. As he gives Calvin a paternal dressing down, what could be released as an explosive outburst is, instead, restrained. The strain of it all over Koechner’s face, conveying a feeling any parent can relate to. It’s a scene in which years of emotion for the character come forth in an absolutely restrained performance from Koechner, of which any parent can relate. Other notable performances come from Ken Jeong and Briana Venskus as Officers Al and Mya, respectively, who form a strange friendship with Skye and Calvin, offering the duo access to things which Skye always wanted to do and can do without fear of punitive action. Much like the rest of the cast, their scenes are brief, but their impact great. Jeong and Venskus steal every scene they’re in and audiences would gladly watch a spiritual sequel just to find out what antics these two local New York officers are up to.
Even with the fantastic supporting cast, all of it hinges on Williams and Butterfield to carry it all forward. Williams has proven herself, via her work on Game of Thrones, to be an incredibly versatile actor, so watching her jump between biting humor and heartbreaking pain, infusing all of it within an underpinning of truth with ease is not at all surprising. However, and it’s worth restating, at no point does her performance seek to idealize the character, it just humanizes her. A truly startling performance comes from Butterfield. He’s an actor whose performances sometimes come across a touch stilted, making an already social awkward character seem exaggeratedly so. In his role of Calvin, he seems absolutely natural and present, able to convey Calvin’s deep psychological trauma in a manner which evades being cliché. As a pair, Williams and Butterfield share incredible chemistry and watching the cinematic friendship bloom before us is made undeniably richer from the actor’s choices.
Then Came You is likely going to a film swept up in the cavalcade of films hitting theaters in February as studios try to draw a crowd around the 14th. It’s the platonic love at the core of Then Came You which makes it memorable. When there are millions of love stories involving the rise and fall of paramours, where one partner must sacrifice for the other or where one must inspire the other at their own reduction, Then Came You offers something more, something more real, something which will make you laugh out laugh even as you burst into tears. If you’re looking for a film which celebrates love, Then Came You, a story of love without cost, that of true friendship, may be exactly what you’re looking for.
In select theaters and on VOD February 1st, 2019.
For information on where to find a screening near you, head to Then Came You’s official website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.