Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 (2011) stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in a tragic comedy about a young man who discovers he has a rare form of spinal cancer, yet is unwilling to let it ruin his life. It is loosely based on the similar experiences of the film’s screenwriter Will Reiser, who himself suffered with cancer.
Following Adam’s (Gordon-Levitt) diagnosis, we see how his life is dramatically turned upside down. He calls on the help of his friend Kyle (Rogen) – who decides his cancer-suffering friend could become a handy tool for picking up girls – a newly trained shrink Katherine (Anna Kendrick) and his mother Diane (Anjelica Huston), who also has to cope with her husband Richard’s (Serge Houde) Alzheimer’s. Through a balance of comedy and realism, 50/50 explores how cancer can strike any one of us, and how different individuals learn to cope upon hearing the news.
Generally, 50/50 stays on the mark, allowing time for the serious issue of cancer to be dealt with whilst applying appropriate smatterings of light humour (mainly from Rogen) in order to give the audience space to breath.
Where the film succeeds is with Gordon-Levitt, who is able to hold the balance of comedy and drama well. However, despite his strong lead performance, the film does wobble on occasion, especially during the scenes involving Adam’s love interest Katherine – the romance feels tagged on at times, cluttering the narrative and ignoring the old dictum that ‘less is more’.
Levine’s 50/50 just about achieves what it set out to do, with moments that are both comical and genuinely touching – particularly between Rogen and Gordon-Levitt. However, its generic format and predictable narrative arc relegates the film to being a ‘solid’ date movie, at best a middling drama-comedy that will more than likely be quickly forgotten.
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