© 2011 Ray Wong
Movies about diseases are difficult to pull off -- they are either too sappy, too serious, or too casual. 50/50 attempts to tackle the subject from a comedic point of view, and the result is mixed.
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young profession living in Seattle who seems to have it all together. He has a good job, a best friend (Seth Rogen), and a beautiful girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard). His world crumbles when he finds out he has a rare form of cancer. His survival instinct kicks as he closes up and puts up a wall around him. Even his new therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), can't get through to him.
Just when he feels like he can manage it, he discovers his girlfriend has been cheating on him, and he realizes his best friend is using him to hook up with women. He shies away from his smothering mother. Adam becomes so isolated that his only connection is with Katherine, who shows genuine concern and care for him despite his wild mood swings and grim outlooks.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) has proven himself a new type of leading man: not particularly tall, dark and handsome, but charismatic and down to earth. As Adam, he shows a good range of emotions and character depth. Adam is cautious, guarded, and a bit of an idealist, and Gordon-Levitt plays the role with heart and a keen understanding of what the character must be going through.
Seth Rogen (Green Hornet) is playing a role that is written specifically for him. The happy-go-lucky, loud-mouthed stoner of a best friend. There's not much depth to the character, although you know he truly cares. He just has a different way of showing his affection and coping with personal tragedies. The obnoxious character isn't easy to love, but through his loyalty to Adam, and Rogen's energetic performance, we come to accept him as a good soul.
Anna Kendrick (Up In the Air) is sweet and kind as Katherine, the rookie therapist who falls for her patient. She and Gordon-Levitt have a cute chemistry together, but her character is somewhat too introverted to make a big splash. Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help) has a showier role as Adam's girlfriend. It seems like Howard has carved out a niche for herself, playing conniving bitches. It's great to Anjelica Huston (When in Rome) in action, and she plays Adam's overbearing mother with grace. Many of us have mothers like her.
Writer Will Reiser uses his own story as the basis for this comedy. Like Adam, Reiser was diagnosed with cancer at a young age and had to go through the whole ordeal. However, Reiser chooses to tell the story as a comedy. It's an aggressive undertaking, to tackle a serious subject such as cancer with laughter, without being offensive and crass. To some extent, he's succeeded. His brand of humor and comedy resembles the raunch of Judd Apatow, most often delivered by Seth Rogen's character. The dialogue is light and the situations amusing.
However, soon the plot dives into the territory of contrivance and melodrama. And the tone takes a sharp turn into the dreary as Adam becomes sick and depressed. Where is the comedy? Where are the laughs? It doesn't help when Kyle -- the source of most of the humor in the movie -- retreats into the background as Adam stumbles and struggles through his ordeal. The story becomes too heavy. It also focuses too much on Adam's struggles that it forgets to develop the other characters. What about Adam's mother? What about Katherine? What about Kyle, who seems to just clown around and hook up with as many chicks as he can.
Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) seems a bit lightweight to direct this comedy-drama. Don't get me wrong. There's nothing truly defective in this production or his direction. Just that it is rather "TV movie of the month." The first act is rather good, when the comedy is front and center. Once the story delves through the gravity of coping with cancer, the pacing seems to drag, and the execution borders on cliches.
The idea behind 50/50 is a noble one, and the concept is promising. But the execution lacks certain quality to pull it off. Like I said, movies about diseases are very difficult to do. This proves my point… success rate is less than 50/50.
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde, Andrew Airlie, Mitch Frewer, Philip Baker Hall
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Will Reiser
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content and drug use
Running Time: 99 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 7
Total - 7.0 out of 10.0