MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★
“Does anyone want to go and see a cancer-comedy with me?” – not words that usually inspire crowds of desperate cinema attendees. Indeed, even the promise of a free ticket takes some persuading. 50/50 shows a lot of courage by trying to put into action the notion that humour and tragedy are not entirely inseparable. Unfortunately, it takes a really good script to see that through and unfortunately 50/50 falls someway short of that script. 50/50 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a 20-something, local radio presenter, Adam. When Adam learns he’s diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer he reacts with the type of disbelief that epitomizes terrible fortune: “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink…I recycle”. Adam’s just a normal guy trying to deal with this devastating news, supported by asshole-best-friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), nervous, young therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick) and his over-protective mother (Anjelica Huston).
The central relationship of the movie is between Adam and Kyle, trying in many ways to be a buddy movie which really doesn’t work until the end. Kyle is such an unlikeable person that it seems utterly unbelievable that a) he would react the way he reacts to Adam’s situation and b) that these two would ever actually be friends. What’s even more frustrating is the end manages to hit many of the right notes, but it just feels so frustrating that they weren’t able to make this relationship seem more plausible and sentimental from the beginning. Adam’s relationship with his mum again feels rather thrown in. She just feels very overbearing for the sake of it and has to look after his Alzheimer’s suffering father, and again it just feels like something written in but not properly explored.
One relationship that works much better is between Adam and his therapist, Rachael. She’s only 24 and very much learning out of a textbook to try and take care of Adam. Both Adam’s initial nervousness at receiving Rachael’s therapy and Rachael’s lack of confidence are instantly identifiable and it sets up quite a nice little dynamic.
Now, for a comedy, how funny is it? Not funny enough. A few smirks, perhaps, but with Rogen’s character acting as the biggest source of comedic influence then unfortunately the film feels rather lacking. Some of the over-the-top gross out humour really misses the target. Using his friend’s cancer as a way to pick up girls? Come on – no actually behaves like that and it doesn’t feel particularly amusing. I’m aware how difficult it is to make light of this subject matter, but I’m afraid 50/50 doesn’t achieve the feat. It all boils down to something very simple to make this work: the main characters need to be to some extent likeable from the beginning.
50/50 is a film with some nice moments and touches but unfortunately fails to spread these moments throughout the entire film. Some of the lovely little friendship moments between Adam and Kyle remind you what a good film this could have been if only it had felt a little more endearing.
50/50 is out on 25th November in the UK. Running time: 100 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
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Review by David Rank