Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows remarkable range in uneven comedy
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen have a remarkable chemistry on screen. That’s the first thing that’s apparent in 50/50, a cancer comedy based off the real life experiences of Will Reiser. If anything we can see that the two deserve to try their hand at another comedy at a minimum and another film, period. The two together is instant comedy with their ability to play off one another.
Adam (Gordon-Levitt) has a fairly pedestrian career as a radio editor. He has a devoted if flaky artist girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a lothario of a best friend (Rogen) that keep him occupied while he avoids his mother (Anjelica Huston) and Alzheimer’s ridden father (Serge Houde). Things change when he gets a grim diagnosis for a 27 year old; a rare cancer that has a 50% chance of killing him. We follow him throughout the process of chemotherapy and eventually surgery to remove the tumor, lodged on his back, and his process of coming to terms with it. Along the way he develops a friendship with a therapist (Anna Kendrick) assigned to help him through the ordeal. As he goes through the process, Adam goes through the stages of acceptance alongside his friends and family.
And it’s a nuanced, brilliant performance from Gordon-Levitt that he took on short notice for James McAvoy, a late scratch from the film for familial reasons. Gordon-Levitt has always taken roles that challenge and push him in different directions; 50/50 is no different in this regard. Adam’s a normal, healthy guy who winds up having a fairly deadly cancer and has to deal with it accordingly. How he handles it isn’t overblown or overdramatic; he’s trying to live his life without the cancer becoming the sole part of it. In many ways it’s a similar character to his one in (500) Days of Summer but a bit more grounded than that film would provide him.
Rogen gets a role typical for his talents as Adam’s best friend since childhood but he’s given one with significantly more depth than normal. He has remarkable chemistry with his co-star, which enhances their relationship on screen, and it’s interesting to see what Rogen can do with a character written as more than a loveable doofus. There’s some heart to Kyle and his handling of his best friend’s plight gives us an insight into their friendship. All he wants to do is be a good friend, nothing more, and their interactions give the film depth it otherwise probably wouldn’t have had. He provides a nice balance to Gordon-Levitt and we’re left wanting more of the two.
The film’s main problem is that there’s a romantic sub-plot shoe-horned into the film between Adam and his therapist. While Anna Kendrick shows some more acting chops after her turn in Up in the Air proved that Twilight was not an accurate representation of her thespian abilities, her part feels tacked on to bring in an audience as opposed to being central to the plot. Her and Adam’s relationship is pressed to be much more important to the film than it needs to be. It feels like a sub plot that had much more depth to it that ended up on the cutting room floor, with the remnants sticking around because they couldn’t be cut entirely. There’s something interesting between the two as a young cancer patient dealing with death well before he should be equipped to and a young therapist trying to find her professional path. It could’ve been much more interesting to see it developed along those routes as opposed to the more cliché romantic route.
50/50 follows in the same path that the aforementioned (500) Days of Summer did; it’s a good, interesting film that doesn’t quite reach up to brilliance.
Director: Jonathan Levine Notable Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer Writer(s): Will Reiser