It was always going to be difficult making a comedy out of a subject like cancer. It’s a difficult balancing act; you don’t want to make the subject too light, not taking the sensitive subject of cancer seriously. Alternatively, you also don’t want to make a black comedy, where the humour becomes more offensive and dark than realistic or uplifting.
This leaves 50/50 telling a story about a man with cancer and how he copes with his very slim chances of survival, while the movie doesn’t find the humour in his coping with cancer but in more traditional ways. For example, you have the character trying hopelessly to pick-up women in a bar, something we have seen loads of times before and done much better as well. We also have the standard, funny best friend, played very ably by Seth Rogen. He delivers most of the humour and most of the jokes at the expense of his friend’s cancer. Unfortunately, it’s not anything we haven’t seen Seth Rogen, and others, do in loads of other types of films, often much better.
Luckily, the central performance is played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It was always going to be a tough job, balancing the light side of the comedy with the heavy side of the cancer but he does the job really well. He can be silly and self-deprecating when with Rogen’s character and then angry and vulnerable when with his therapist.
It takes much more than a central performance to make this movie as effective as it wants to be. Its based on a true story and there are some interesting things in it, but none of them are the humour or funny side of the subject. It’s the realistic take on a young man’s struggle with cancer and how his life changes and sometimes falls apart around him, that is much more interesting. This film would have benefitted from being a drama with a hint of comedy, rather than trying to be a funny film about cancer.
The decision to make it a comedy about cancer means that the film is very easy to figure out. Very little surprises you and in a movie where the central character’s life is in danger and you want the audience to genuinely think this, you need to convince that he could actually die. Instead, what we get is a standard comedy movie with cancer as the theme. It has the same relationship we’ve seen before, the same supporting characters that offer their unique chances for the familiar jokes we have seen before too.
Its Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance that saves this film from being drastically average. He can play the dramatic scenes fantastically and adds another film to the showcase of his talents. When he is struggling with the cancer, at his lowest point but realising what he has become and how he has treated those closest to him, this film is at its best. Unfortunately, its such a small part of the film that its not enough to raise its standard.
Overall, 50/50 is an admirable idea. To make a realistic, believable but funny film about a man’s struggle with cancer is a good idea but 50/50 doesn’t execute it as well as it should. Take the cancer element away and we end up with a standard comedy that we have seen loads of times before. Funny best friends, obvious love interests and cliché set-pieces aren’t enough to make this movie the “cancer-comedy” it wants to be. Luckily, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is as fantastic as always and goes some way to lifting the quality of a fairly average movie.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)