“I don’t believe in happy endings,” Cara Delevingne shouts at Jaden Smith in this gushing, sobfest cancer romance. She plays Izzy, a Pittsburgh teenager diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer and given less than a year to live. Izzy is a character you might recognise from other movies: the pretty cancer-patient girlfriend. Her job here is to be life-affirmingly brave and then die (tastefully), thus enriching her boyfriend Daryn (Smith) with a tragic yet alluring backstory.
Which is a shame, because Delevingne gives an impressive performance; not convincing exactly, but likable and charismatic. And to be fair, Izzy is a paper-thin character – on paper, she must have looked like a collection of cliches. Izzy grows up on the wrong side of town, raised from the age of six by the babysitter after her drug-addict mum walked out. She’s tattooed and tough on the outside, with blue hair, and a sweet-natured and courageous soul.
Smith, on the other hand, is a tad bland as rich kid Daryn, an outstanding student being groomed for greatness by his dad (Cuba Gooding Jr). Secretly, Daryn dreams of becoming a rapper; and here’s where Izzy comes in useful with her grab-life-while-you-can dying-girl wisdom. The pair meet when they both gatecrash a rap gig. Izzy nicknames Daryn “Square”. The blue hair turns out to be a wig: she lost her hair during chemo. When he finds out she’s dying, Daryn decides to cram a lifetime of milestones into their short year together. The upbeat montages of the two seizing the day and the slo-mo panic dashes to A&E feel like scenes shuffled from a dozen terminal-illness weepies. Depressingly, Izzy seems to have absolutely no friends or dreams of her own.
Nothing here is real-world or complicated – though there are a couple of conspicuous attempts: in one scene, Smith dons a pair of rubber gloves to wash a bedpan. It’s a fairytale high on teenage narcissism: parents are either absent or eventually humbled by their wise-hearted offspring. Still, as these films always do, it gets you in the end with a left hook to the tear ducts. I was genuinely seething at being manipulated by such mawkish baloney.
Life in a Year is released on 7 June on digital platforms.
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