If you’ve followed any of the press for 50/50, you know two things:
– This is a funny movie about Cancer.
– There haven’t really been funny movies about Cancer before.
These are both true. But they might imply that this is a black comedy, or at least an unconventional one. But this last point could not be further from the truth – for all its thematic uniqueness, 50/50 is about as straight-laced a movie as it can be. With an even temper consistant in the tamest kind of Dramedies you find in a cineplex, this is a movie that breaks zero taboos. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The title 50/50 describes the chances given to quarter-aged Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) of surviving his unexpected encounter with Cancer. A quiet guy who has sought to isolate himself in the past, the only support he has available to him is an unlikely team that consists of a distant girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), a helicopter parent (Anjelica Huston, in a weird wig), a Therapist who hasn’t even graduated yet (Anna Kendrick), and a crass best friend that can’t stop talking to girls (Seth Rogen). With them, Adam takes on Cancer and, by the end of the film, is a happier person for breaking out of his habits to enjoy life.
This really could have been CBS TV movie-bad, but the final product avoids the stigma of its unnaturally cheery outlook on a terminal disease. It’s hard to tell what they did right, because the story so closely resembles less touching movies intended to be touching, but if I had to credit what went right here, it’s Rogen.
Rogen co-wrote the film his friend Will Reiser, for whom the script was largely autobiographical. His retelling of the story from the protagonist’s view is stale (as is Gordon-Levitt in the role, who goes with a generic mopey face that is saved only by the actor’s innate appeal), but Rogen’s character keeps it fresh. He doesn’t attempt to transform himself into Adam’s personal support group, he steps up in more subtle ways to keep his friend going. He’s a real guy that betters himself to help his friend, something much more affecting than an unrealistically perfect companion.
The rest of the cast is effective, even with recycled characters. Kendrick can pull off the unassuming love interest role, and Howard proves that she can do Ice Queen as well as anyone else. And any film with Philip Baker Hall, who’s got a small role, has at least one thing going for it.
50/50 is a effortlessly easy film to fall for, but it’s not the unique take on the Dramedy that its Press has been trumpeting. The truth is, it’s more of a traditional film than anything else. Points have to be deducted for its uninspired core, but enough life is brought to the project to let it get away with it.