Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick
Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is an agreeably traumatic experience. Tackling the subject via a cinematic medium has become increasingly commonplace as of late, yet balancing the high drama that coincides with the seriousness of it with a lighter side for levity’s sake is no easy task. Putting aside its mixed critical reception, 2009’s Funny People managed to do so nimbly, putting aside the inaccurate image it garnered thanks to a slightly misleading marketing campaign. Flaws aside, Apatow’s effort was (and still is) a surprisingly mature, sporadically funny experiment that succeeded enough to warrant the limited praise it deserved. Roughly two years later, Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 has burst onto the scene, bringing with it a similar blend of both sides of the dramatic spectrum, however it’s neither as consistent or polished as one would hope despite the inherent sense of likability it often sports.
Let’s start with Adam’s initial diagnosis. Rattled as he is upon receiving the news, 50/50 does a fine enough job in illustrating the emotional fallout that takes place both within Adam and his small, close-knit circle of family and friends. Given the semi-autobiographical nature of the script, Adam’s journey back to health feels authentic enough yet oddly low-key in its sensibilities, thus detracting slightly from our natural inclination to continually sympathize with him as things go from bad to worse thanks to this and the film’s sometimes rigid back-and-forth structuring.
The situations Adam finds himself in on the road to recovery are, needless to say, alternately heartwarming and heartwrenching as both the laughs and added misfortune are piled on respectively, prompting one to criticize Levine for how well he handles the emotional game of ping pong that ensues given his obvious penchant for using music to set a particular mood. Truth be told, 50/50 rarely gets in touch with its more dramatic side, but when it finally does, the results hit hard thanks to how genuinely likable Adam is as a character. Unfortunately, the same really can’t be said for the film’s shaky, inconsistent sense of humor that, while tastefully vulgar and mostly effective, fails to provide an ample amount of comic relief amid the growing severity of Adam’s condition.
Regardless of minor narrative and tonal inconsistencies, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a proverbial knockout as the male lead, capturing the essence of the reserved, goody two shoes-type individual who’s unexpectedly been dealt a devastatingly bad hand. Handling the emotionally distressing nature of Adam’s ailment with the utmost ease, Gordon-Levitt also exhibits a surprising amount of chemistry with best bud Kyle, aptly played by Seth Rogen and of whom predictably provides for a majority of the film’s sense of humor. Love him or hate him, Rogen’s successfully established himself as a comedic actor amid all the warranted criticism he’s received for coexisting with the likes similarly typecast individuals. Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston and Anna Kendrick shine in their respective roles, and like I stated previously, the eclectic cast of characters alone is enough to establish an often enjoyable atmosphere that surrounds the entire production in light of its more obvious flaws.
50/50 isn’t necessarily a great film by any means; it’s instead a worthwhile effort that touches upon some serious subject matter in a refreshingly honest fashion while suffering from a mild inability to balance its lightheartedness with the more grim side of things. Even though it fails to deliver as many laughs as we’d expect it to, the film as a whole remains alternately heartwarming and almost devastating as the latter act brings about more tears than the sporadic chuckles we become used to emitting. Levine’s noticeable style and penchant for using music to set a particular mood is hit-or-miss as well, yet an infinitely likable cast coupled with a superb collective effort from the cast ensure that 50/50‘s sometimes peculiar air of detachment is easily overlooked.