Take "The Wonder Years," double the twee and give Fred Savage a British accent and leukemia and you'll have "Ways to Live Forever," an adorable death march stalking the last weeks of 12-year-old Sam's life.
Sam (Robbie Kay) and best friend Felix (Alex Etel) are terminal, so instead of wasting their time with math, their private teacher (Greta Scacchi) inspires them to make their final moments count, a project that includes trying to break the world record for worm-eating, running up and down an escalator, smoking and drinking, and leaving behind a written and video-recorded diary that shapes Gustavo Ron's film from its episodic structure and chirpy narration to the scribbled onscreen words that label Sam's mum, his gran and his kid sister. (You know, in case it wasn't obvious.)
As if a dying kid weren't a surefire sentimental wallop, Ron sweetens the flick with acoustic guitars, a kiddie romance and animated pop-ups that illustrate everything from platelets to Dia de los Muertos. The result is as sugary as a fatal toothache, though it's hard to hate a film that merely wants to give the world a hug. Alas, the audience is also doomed: You'll feel like a monster if you don't cry and a moron if you do.
"Ways to Live Forever"
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing at: AMC Burbank 8, AMC Orange 30