Wednesday, February 15, 2012

50/50 (2011)

Dying is easy; comedy is hard.  Or so goes the old adage.  It should be said that making a comedy about dying (or at least its prospect) is hard, too.  Screenwriter Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levin have set this laudable task for themselves with disappointing results.  27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has an almost live-in girlfriend named Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a crass best friend named Kyle (Seth Rogen).  At a doctor visit Adam learns he has a tumor on his spine and that the recovery prognosis is fifty-fifty.  Adam’s young counseling intern Katherine (Anna Kendrick) struggles to put her charge at ease with various coping and relaxation techniques.  However, he does attain a modicum of comfort (and some medical marijuana) from fellow chemotherapy patients Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer).  Adam’s anxious mother Diane (Anjelica Huston) offers to move in, but Rachael assures her (and herself) that she can look after her beau.  But Kyle catches the reluctant girlfriend in some convenient canoodling, which prompts our intrepid friends to explore cancer as a means to pick up shallow women -- and opens an avenue of romance between Adam and Katherine.  Aside from the disease-as-seduction gag Reiser gets slight comedic mileage out of his cancer premise, and what humor hi-jinks the film has are recognizable from most so-called “bromances”.  Levine directs tentatively, relying too often on music montages, and leaves his actors floundering and unfocused in scenes that require delicate tonal shifts.  The appealing Gordon-Levitt and adorable Kendrick manage moments of genuine charm in spite of this.  Howard does well in a thankless role, while Huston distinguishes herself nicely.  Rogen, however, does not fare so well.  His dialogue, much of which I suspect was improvised, sounds like outtakes from lesser movies, and his comic timing has all the precision of a stampede.  I have no doubt a movie that addresses cancer with sensitivity and humor could be made.  Unfortunately we’ll have to wait for more courageous comedy writers and directors (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant spring to mind) to tackle it.

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