Max Park (John Cho) is keeping a secret from his daughter. He’s been recently told that he has a tumor at the base of his brain that’s going to kill him in about a year. There’s a surgery that could remove it, but the survival rate of that is only about 20%. He’s probably too scared to do that, and so he knows he doesn’t have much time left to make sure that his teenage daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) is prepared for the world. Without telling her that he’s dying, he takes Wally on a road trip to his 20th college reunion to track down her estranged mother via the old buddy (Jemaine Clement) who broke them up in the first place. At the same time, the news of his diagnosis shifts the dynamic between Max and a casual girlfriend named Annie (Kaya Scodelario).
Clearly, this is a screenplay (by Vera Herbert) that’s just full of potential traps. Do I accept that a guy like Max really wouldn’t tell his daughter that he was dying as he took her to meet her birth mother for the first time? Not really. And it’s the kind of screenwriting trick that usually leads to unforgivable melodrama, in which characters are forced to take actions that aren’t relatable in order to manipulate the audience’s emotions. There’s a better version of this film with these two performers that trusts viewers a bit more and doesn’t withhold the truth about Max’s condition from Wally for a perfectly timed climax.
And yet it’s easy to take the ride with Max and Wally because of the two performers who bring them to life. Cho has always been such a natural presence on screen, finding ways to be both remarkably charismatic and completely organic as an average guy at the same time. Isaac is a true breakthrough, selling the emotion of Wally’s arc in a way that feels lived in instead of melodramatic. Marks has a skill with character, and her clear trust in Cho and Isaac is rewarded with a father/daughter chemistry that we believe 100%, which allows the emotional arc to connect even when we can see where it’s going.