50/50

Sunday October 16th 2011


Sincerity isn’t cool at the moment, and it’s hurting Hollywood. Last year’s big disease comedy Love and Other Drugs was actually a deeply affecting study of a young couple’s relationship crippled by the effects of early onset Parkinson’s. But because that plot line alone might have been considered corny (or worse, old fashioned) the filmmakers also crowbarred in a half-arsed satire of the pharmaceutical industry, a Roger Dodger-style ode to male chauvinism and some of the lamest ‘raunchy comedy’ since The Heartbreak Kid.

50/50 is something of a spiritual successor to Love and Other Drugs, both in its playful but poignant treatment of a serious subject matter and in its eagerness to shoot itself in the foot. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is heartbreaking yet understated as twenty-something cancer sufferer Adam, and a pair of bang-on supporting performances from Anjelica Huston and Anna Kendrick as his mother and therapist respectively introduce plenty of new ideas into the habitually formulaic Cancer Movie™ genre, without fucking up the emotional backbone of the film.

But other elements, namely Seth Rogen’s dislikable best friend character Kyle and an inexplicably evil girlfriend played by Bryce Dallas Howard, are straight out of misanthropy-fest Get Him To The Greek and feel wildly out of joint with the rest of the film. They’re mainly there to facilitate comedy set pieces, like the one in which Adam and Kyle try to pick up women by playing the cancer card, but there’s little need for these self-consciously ‘edgy’ scenes when the movie’s already very funny on its own terms.

As with Love and Other Drugs, the elements of 50/50 that do work are strong enough to carry the film along and affecting enough to bring losers like me to tears in their cinema seats. And the elements that don’t work … well, at least they don’t include an extended sequence in which Jake Gyllenhaal can’t get rid of an erection.