50/50 is an alternately hilarious and tear-jerking tale of a twenty-something diagnosed with cancer. At its most basic, it is a success both as a drama and as a comedy, and in cinema, that is a difficult task to accomplish. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has grown exponentially as an actor in the last five years, is absolutely phenomenal here and worthy of an Oscar nomination. Seth Rogen, on the other hand, is an actor at a standstill. His performances have not improved, nor have they worsened, since he came into the spotlight a few years ago. I enjoyed his presence, but I wouldn’t call 50/50 a perfect film. I can’t help but assume that he is the reason.
Loosely based on the writer Will Reiser’s personal battle with cancer, 50/50 introduces us to Adam Lerner, a writer for public radio who professes to never drink, smoke or go with girls who do; he’s the very last person imaginable to contract a life-threatening disease. You know what follows. Adam sees a doctor complaining of back pain and discovers he has a rare type of cancer and must undergo chemo. As you’d guess, Adam’s life proceeds to fall apart. His once caring and dedicated girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) abandons him after being caught cheating. His mother (Anjelica Huston) tries to move in to care for him, and his best friend is numb to the reality that he has little time left on Earth.
Seth Rogen is the main downfall here and the reason I wouldn’t call it a perfect, or for that matter, a great film (Although, it still is very good). I, myself, have never been a fan of his raunchy style of comedy as seen in movies such as “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express”. Some of the humor here works, and some of it doesn’t. I felt that his presence in 50/50 was too contrived, almost obnoxiously so, and his character, that of the pothead loser, echoed what he has played time and time again.
Anna Kendrick, on the other hand, is marvelous here as a young psychiatrist helping Adam through his treatment. The chemistry between Kenrick and Gordon-Levitt is dynamite, and this is where the movie really shines. The dialogue exchanged between them is frank without being forced and touching without being overly mawkish. Ditto for the scenes with Anjelica Huston, who really breaks free in the third act of the film.
Director Jonathan Levine treats his audience like the adults they are. There’s no easy way of dealing with such a dangerous and relevant topic like cancer, and Levine bravely dives right into the material instead of dancing around it as so many other films have done. Painting his characters with the brush of realism, Levine successfully creates an atmosphere of care for Adam without manipulating his audience. The same can be said for Gordon-Levitt. His performance is fully formed and is free of overt grabs for his audience’s affection. This is the work of a born actor, and I’d love to see him recognized for it.
Andrew Saladino is a freshman film-television-digital media major from Southlake, Texas