Odds and ends
50/50, written by Will Reiser and inspired by his own battle with cancer, has all of the pitfalls of a Hallmark Channel “Disease of the Week” movie, and it sometimes veers into that schmaltzy territory. Even though it has moments, especially early on, that feel predictable and stereotypical, the film is rescued by its fine cast and Reiser’s often sharp, funny and honest writing.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen are so good here, they deserve awards buzz. They make 50/50, performance-wise, one of the best male “buddy” movies in a long time.
Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a young man actually making a living in Public Broadcasting Radio in Seattle. He notices some back pain while jogging, gets an MRI, and finds out he has a rare spinal cancer with a 50/50 chance of survival.
Rogen plays Kyle, Adam’s best friend, also making a living in Seattle public broadcasting radio. Kyle’s reaction to his friend’s predicament is an unorthodox one. While he’s probably freaking out in his private time, he turns up the party factor when around Adam, declaring that 50/50 is pretty good odds when it comes to cancer.
When Reiser had his real life cancer battle, Rogen was one of his best friends, so Rogen is essentially playing himself in this movie. There’s no question that Rogen’s true experience with a similar situation to the one in this film propels his performance, making it perhaps his career’s best work.
It’s worth noting that Rogen delivered another one of his best performances in 2009’s Funny People, another “cancer comedy.” With 50/50, it appears “Seth Rogen Cancer Comedies” can now officially be sanctioned a legitimate movie genre. A rather good and solid genre thus far, I might add.
Gordon-Levitt and Rogen make for a good combo, with Gordon-Levitt’s dry and calm Adam the perfect complement to Rogen’s over-reactant Kyle.
Anna Kendrick is sweet and funny as Katherine, the grief counselor trying to help Adam surf through troubled waters. The film essentially positions Katherine as something of a romantic interest, which takes the film into delusional territories—this shit just doesn’t happen with your doctor. And let it be said, if getting cancer means I get to be in the presence of a sweet thing like Kendrick, and she has romantic interest, well, then give me some cancer now.
Bryce Dallas Howard does OK work as sucky girlfriend Rachael, the requisite asshole in the movie who gives Adam a major emotional challenge to go with his physical ones. Her character’s actions are reprehensible, rendering Rachael the most hateful force in the film, besides the actual cancer. Howard delivers the role with enough grace to keep her from becoming caricature. Anjelica Huston, as Adam’s mother, is a tedious character at first but sort of rallies in the end.
The film resolves Adam’s predicament in a way that is satisfying and charming. Gordon-Levitt, as he proved in (500) Days of Summer, can be a true heartbreaker just by simply smiling on screen. And, as with Summer, he’s an actor who’s easy to root for in 50/50. Adam will remain one of 2011’s most memorable and likeable characters.
Rogen can get the laughs, but he’s also quite potent with the serious stuff. He’s been making some interesting career choices of late, and managing some cool dramatic moments within the comfort zone of “dramedies.” It’ll be interesting to see if he tries a straight-up drama one of these days. I think he’s fully capable of major-heavy dramatic lifting.
While a few of the characters and subplots miss the mark at times, I must stress that Gordon-Levitt/Rogen chemistry overpowers the film’s weaknesses like chemo blasting cancer cells.