REVIEW: 50/50

Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Will Reiser (screenplay)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston

As you may have guessed, 50/50 has a series of choices with two possible outcomes, the most prominent of which is whether the young cancer patient played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt will live or die.  The movie also presents a choice that is unexpected given the subject matter: will it lean more heavily on comedy or drama?

The latter choice is more interesting because an audience will have to grapple with it. Once you get to know Adam (Gordon-Levitt), you’ll want him to live, and Will Reiser’s screenplay assures that you will never have mixed feelings about that.  You will about the comedy, though.  Should a movie about this be funny?  Showtime’s The Big C has proven that it is indeed possible, as long as there is a distinct human element. Thanks to the well-cast ensemble, 50/50 is mostly successful at walking the tightrope.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been quietly evolving as an actor.  In his roles in Inception and (500) Days of Summer he’s exuded an effortless charm, much like an early Brad Pitt.  His darker roles, such as in Brick or The Lookout, are the real showcases of his talent though.  Gordon-Levitt combines all those tools in this performance, using his soft facial features to convey both emotional depth and charm.

Though Adam is often thrown a joke or two, the broadest comedy lies heavily on Seth Rogen’s Kyle.  Reiser attempts to sentimentalize Rogen’s rambunctious performance at the end, but he is and always will be the goofy friend.  At times it comes off as too much, which Adam seems to realize as well.  Kyle seems intent on using Adam’s sickness to score chicks, and the movie never really addresses or resolves this outside of the meltdown scene.

50/50‘s conclusion leaves a lot of loose ends.  The sometimes-fractured relationships seem to resolve themselves on their own.  Adam’s relationship with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) reveals more layers of misery than any of the others, though.  Dallas Howard does an admirable job of humanizing her, though the script makes no effort to.  After her thankless role in The Help, she appears to be challenging herself by taking one-dimensional roles and trying to give them some semblance of depth.

Director Jonathan Levine and Gordon-Levitt collaborate fairly well to keep Adam’s humanity at the forefront.  Kyle comes in in between sessions with the therapist (Anna Kendrick), the mother (Anjelica Huston) and chemotherapy, though those three aspects provide all of the movie’s best sequences.  This would’ve been better if it weren’t forcing a buddy film in with all those other elements.  Kyle could’ve been another piece, instead of the piece.

That he is the chief focus outside of Adam is hurt even more by the fact that Kendrick and Huston give fantastic performances here.  Kendrick’s rapid-fire insecurity and Huston’s steady, deadpan gaze bounce off of Gordon-Levitt’s acting effortlessly.  There are also scenes with Philip Baker Hall, another cancer patient getting chemo, that stick.

Levine directs this movie admirably given the two conflicting styles at play.  He doesn’t overplay it visually but he also doesn’t let the jokes do all the work.  Although Adam is the reluctant star in his own pity party, he doesn’t let Gordon-Levitt live in melodramatic close-up.  He zooms out and examines his life and the people who make it worth living.

At the beginning of the movie Adam is running down the streets of Seattle, but he abruptly stops at a crosswalk with a flashing red hand.  There are no cars coming and another jogger zooms by him, but at that point in his life he has the time to wait for it.  More than anything, this is a movie about him changing his mind about that.

Grade: B-

Catch up on other great Joseph Gordon-Levitt films at LOVEFiLM such as the ultimate break-up film, (500) Days of Summer and the classic romantic comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You. With of 70,000 titles and counting you’re sure to find something to watch!

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