Asa Butterfield is a terrible dancer. Truly, truly awful. Or at least Calvin, the character he plays in Netflix’s Departures is. Calvin is a hypochondriac working as a baggage handler in an airport. Such is the extent of his hypochondria, his doctor, Dr Collins (Ron Simons), sends him to a cancer support group to try and cure him of his affliction.
Whilst in the meeting he is accosted by Skye (Maisie Williams) who decides to befriend him, in spite of him showing no desire to be a friend of hers or anybody else. When he, reluctantly, helps her to get something out of a vending machine and drops his work identification, she goes to his workplace and finds him.
She has a bucket list and she wants Calvin to help her complete it. Her list, something that was encouraged in the group sessions, is very different from everybody else’s. Terminally ill and only seventeen, Skye wants to squeeze as much excitement as possible into the little time she has left.
Eschewing what she considered the normal wishes of the young dying; going to Disneyland or seeing the pyramids, she has a much more eclectic list of wishes. The first thing on her list gets Calvin tasered and arrested. Luckily for Calvin, one of the police persons who arrest him, officer Al (Ken Jeong) recognises him from the cancer group as his father attends the same group.
Officer Al and his partner, officer May (Briana Venskus) decide to let him go. Skye catches up with him and they beginning to go through her list, becoming fast friends. As they tick items off of the list, Skye finds out that Calvin fancies one of the flight attendants who works out of the airport he works at. Her name is Izzy (Nina Dobrev).
Skye tells him to ask her out. Calvin is reluctant. They go to a party at Skye’s friend, Ashley (Peyton List) house. Skye, who had been somewhat shunned since her cancer diagnosis, has a brilliant time, reconnecting with Ashley. Calvin waits around awkwardly. Ashley makes out with Will (Angel Valle Jr.) and Skye sees him. She leaves the party angry that Ashley made out with Will knowing that she liked him.
Skye persuades Izzy to go on a date with Calvin, saying that she will be chaperoning her and her date. Skye turns up late and dateless, but not before Calvin has told Izzy that he met Skye in a cancer group, making Izzy believe he too has cancer. Skye interrupts as he is about to tell Izzy he does not.
Calvin is furious at her for ruining his chances with Izzy, as she now believes he has cancer. He asks why she came into his life. She tells him that it is on her list. She wanted to save someone from a sad existence. They settle their differences.
Calvin begins to relax, his hypochondria and anxiety subsiding. He asks Izzy out. He and Skye continue to go through her list. They enlist the help of the police to get Will’s phone number for Skye. Calvin goes on a date with Izzy. When he gets the opportunity to confess to her that he does not have cancer, he chickens out.
Skye meets Calvin’s family. His mother is like a zombie. Calvin’s sister-in-law, Lucy (Margot Bingham) tells her that she has been like that ever since Calvin’s sister died some years before. She was the cause of the death.
Izzy, knowing that not only is Calvin afraid of flying but he has never flown, makes a surprise date for him on a stationary plane. Skye calls Will and loses her virginity. Calvin tells Izzy he does not have cancer. She is furious and ends the date.
Calvin mopes at home, staying in bed, but his father, Bob (David Koechner) refuses to let him go the way of his mother. He goes to see Skye. She too has been moping in bed, disappointed at her encounter with Will. Calvin takes her to his sister’s grave. They were twins and when she died he stopped celebrating birthdays.
They go out to eat and Skye gives him a new list, a serious one. Skye goes to the bathroom as Calvin receives a call. Lucy is having her baby. Skye collapses as she is returning. She ends up in the hospital. Now bedridden and in and out of consciousness, Calvin endeavours to fulfil the list, bring the experiences to Skye. Skye dies. Calvin takes a flight with Izzy as the attendant. The end.
Dancing aside, Departures is a wonderful film about living as we watch Skye dying. The film is carried by two brilliant central performances from Maisie Williams and Asa Butterfield.
Williams’ Skye is such a force of nature, her drive to experience life, masking her fear of dying throughout. The inevitability of her death makes the film an emotional watch as, after the fun of the initial list, the finality of the second list kicks in after her collapse.
At ninety-seven minutes long, Departures or Then Came You, as it was originally called, bumps along at a good pace. Written by Fergal Rock – how cool is that name? – and directed by Peter Hutchings, the film looks and feels hopeful, with pleasant uplifting music throughout and the editing zippy and youthful.
The romance between Calvin and Izzy is nice if a little forced. Truth be told, the other characters in the film are only there to support the central story. This is Skye and Calvin’s story. Skye blazes brightly before flaring out and Calvin, with Skye’s help, finds his inner flame.
Departures is a goodish film made far better than the sum of its part by two wonderful central performances. Worth a look.