Swapping out the usual relationship tangle for a cancer-centric plot, 50/50 feels like this year’s (500) Days Of Summer. Not solely because of another starring role for Joseph Gordon-Levitt (though he is excellent again), 50/50 also shares the same, and excellently told, bittersweet yet uplifting tone and story, which given that (500) Days was one of our favourite films of 2009, bodes pretty well for this Jonathan Levine-directed effort.
When 27-year-old Adam (Gordon-Levitt) is quite suddenly diagnosed with cancer, it expectedly takes over his life, though while he finds support from best friend Kyle (Rogen), who also uses Adam’s life-threatening condition to get them both laid, a method of cheering him up, Kyle claims, his girlfriend had also since left him, unable to stay faithful and deal with the news. With a void left by ex-girlfriend Rachael (Howard), worrying mother Dianne (Huston) attempts to pick up the slack, but it’s really therapist Katie (Kendrick) with whom Adam finds most solace, and starts to form a stronger bond than either of them had expected.
Loosely-based on the life of screenwriter Will Reiser, as his first feature it’s a remarkable effort, himself diagnosed six years ago with a tumour in his spine. The film possesses a poignant tone; at times it can be serious in nature but it always comes back around to a really endearing buddy comedy.
The moments of real emotion are played off nicely against a very on-form Seth Rogen, whose bratishness finds the perfect level, allowing 50/50 to hold weight yet still feel jovial. It’s the same again from him but it works just as well as ever. Like the rest of the film, he gives a lot of laughs, some of them obvious, but all with perfect delivery.
James McAvoy was originally set to star in the leading role but I’m delighted it was Gordon-Levitt who instead fills Adam’s boots; the quickly-ascending talent is wonderful, perfectly embodying how you’d imagine anyone in his position to react. In one scene in particular (in the car) you feel for him much more than you’d ever expect in this sort of film, as Gordon-Levitt balances the flip-flop tone perfectly. He delivers a performance that intentionally isn’t too overpowering but still embodies the weight it crucially needs.
While 50/50 doesn’t offer anything too original in terms of style, how effortlessly the film flows is great credit to director Jonathan Levine. The narrative feels very snappy as the film plays the emotion al scenes out as it needs without lingering needlessly elsewhere, helping to balance the mixture of out-right comedy and what was always going to be a more sombre subject, in cancer.