Time and time again, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has proven to be one of the best and most reliable actors of his generation. After getting his big break on the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun, Gordon-Levitt steadily began taking supporting roles in movies before taking lead roles in acclaimed independent movies such as Brick, The Lookout, and (500) Days of Summer. And despite not having much to do in Inception, it nonetheless gained him greater exposure to an audience who may not have been aware of him before. Now he’s back in the lead for his new movie, 50/50, which has both the low-key honesty of his independent work and enough appeal for mainstream audiences too.
Plot Synopsis: Adam is a rather normal, unassuming writer for a radio station. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and has a girlfriend named Rachel that he lives with. He’s been having back-problems recently, but doesn’t think much of it…until the doctor reveals that he has rare form of cancer. The doctor says that Adam has a 50% chance to live, even with treatment and chemotherapy. While he is pretty down about the reveal, his best friend Kyle thinks he should live it up and have fun in what could be his last days.
Cancer is no laughing matter. In fact it can be a really depressing subject, and it would seem to be pretty difficult to mine comedy out of the premise. However, 50/50 juggles its shifting tones with great ease. Adam and Kyle are two completely different kinds of people, and Kyle is the backbone of most of the comedy here. Without him, Adam would have no motivation to do anything and the movie could have ended up being the depressing bore I mentioned earlier. The humor in 50/50 isn’t the kind that uses obvious, over-the-top gags to extract laughs from the audience, but rather the kind that flows naturally from each character’s quirks and actions. Adam’s perplexed reactions to his friend’s comments are priceless, and Rogen’s funniest line in the film nary one curse word. That’s not to say that Will Reiser’s script doesn’t have some great raunchy moments, but it’s nice to see that toned down for a movie that doesn’t need most of that stuff to be funny.
Seth Rogen’s usual acting persona here hasn’t really been stretched here (Kyle is very similar to most other Rogen characters), however there is a genuine feeling and bond that he has for Adam and his well-being, even when using him to pick up girls. At first, we question whether Kyle is working in Adam’s best interests, until he comes around in the end like a true friend. While his understated acting style could not be more contrary to Rogen’s brash motor mouth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt even steals many of the movies funniest moments. Because Gordon-Levitt plays the character as calm and reserved, this makes his more emotional cracks moments later on hit that much harder. For those who get teary-eyed at movies, it will be hard for them not to feel for Adam’s plight and cry by the end.
50/50 is not solely a two-man show though; every actor gets his or her moments to shine too. Anjelica Huston, who plays Adam’s mother Diane, seems overbearing at first, until you realize the difficult position she is in. It also could have been easy for Bryce Dallas Howard to play Rachel as unlikable from the start, but she seems fine at first so we understand at least why Adam would want to be with her.
Will Reiser, a friend of Seth Rogen’s, reportedly based his script off of his own personal experience with cancer, which would explain the film’s sense of authenticity and rich characters. Many of the greatest movies come from people who draw from themselves in order to formulate their stories, rather than artificial contrivance. It’s that personal touch that vibrates through 50/50 and gives it the edge over most of the other September film releases (except maybe Warrior and Drive, but that’s just me). Don’t let the subject matter fool you or turn you off; 50/50 is a warmhearted movie that will make you laugh, make you cry, and then make you feel good by the end.