Duration: 100 mins
Will Reiser pens what appears on the exoskeleton as a controversial choice to encumber a comedy with a premise of dealing with the inevitable woes of a serious illness. Based on personal experiences, he devises a script that also features real-life best pal, Seth Rogen; and if his recent resume is anything to go by, then fusing a hard-hitting subject matter with the foul-mouthed quips of the Green Hornet star has the potential for disaster.
However, the combination of director, Jonathan Levine, the aforementioned writer and co-star, along with the talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actually gel rather well, with a tasteful offering for what is essentially being dubbed a 'cancer-comedy'.
50/50 centres on lead, Adam (Gordon-Levitt), who -aside from some chronic back-pain - is a fit and healthy twenty seven year old man: he eats sensibly, goes for morning runs, doesn't smoke, and yet is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. Best friend Kyle (Rogen), offers support throughout his ordeal, as he counteracts his overprotective mother - played by Angelica Huston - and seemingly loyal girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), as Adam forges a tempestuous rapport with inexperienced therapist Katherine (Anna Hendrick).
From the outset, the film grasps a balance of light-hearted and sombre tones, exerting the highs and lows of story that will have audiences laughing out loud one minute and gushing with tears the next: it's that emotionally taut.
What Levine achieves with his script, is to create a crowd pleasing, witty story that's articulately directed and tastefully told. The casting choices are spot on, with Gordon-Levitt consistently great, with a possible career best. Similarly, Rogen puts in an altogether refreshing performance that differs from his typical roles: specifically cheap, overt laughs, instead providing a bulk of the comic relief whilst retaining a dignity that adds credibility to both the film and him as an actor. Huston plays a much smaller, yet equally effective role that perhaps depicts the most engaging of relationships: that between a mother and son. One of the most emotionally charged scenes occurs between the two in the third act that'll test the more hardened audience members.
However, whilst the mother-son, boyfriend-girlfriend, best friend-best friend dynamics are winners, the portrayal of said female roles are typical and not so inventive: Huston's overbearing mother still tries to wrap her adult son in cotton wool, overreacting to the events that unfold. We have the committed girlfriend that - without question - will stand by Adam in his time of need and attempt to shape him into the man she deems desirable. And finally Katherine is introduced as the quirky, emotionally unsure professional that constantly crosses the doctor-patient boundaries as the inexperienced practitioner senses something more intimate brewing.
That said, there are several positives to speak of, including the fundamental elements: the sharp script and strong acting drive the narrative forward and rarely give in to full on conformity. The narrative is a little neatly devised, though, but entertains enough to disguise this with a smoothly paced and enjoyable story. As devastating as the subject matter is, 50/50 is a little nonchalant in its portrayal: the severity of the Adam's life threatening cancer isn't at the forefront of the plot for its entirety, with the occasional scene of sickness, lethargy, attending chemotherapy and losing his hair never quite convinces with its true severity, playing second fiddle as the use of a Hollywood make-up team remind us of his battle.
50/50 is well-rounded, engaging and hugely enjoyable considering its traumatic theme. The narrative, however, feels effortless without stuttering, which sees Gordon-Levitt shines in a challenging role, as his performance is accentuated by a strong cast: notably a fine contribution courtesy of Rogen. In fact, the pair team up to create a likeable duo, as this comedy-drama proves maturity and sincerity, coupled with frequent hilarity can actually go hand-in-hand superbly.