“50/50”: Worth the risk…Posted: December 8, 2011
This new film is based on the life of screenwriter Will Reiser, and follows the repercussions of a play-it-safe, non-smoking, teetotal 27 year-old (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is diagnosed with a spinal tumour. After receiving the news, he and his best friend (Seth Rogen) are forced to reassess their priorities and find a way of living day-to-day life in the knowledge that his survival rate is only 50/50.
Now Will Reiser calls it a “cancer comedy,” which at first may seem like a contradiction in terms – a bit like “Sky News” or “government efficiency” (Zing! That’s Satire!) – but this film delivers the dramatic and comedic goods in equal measure. It’s beautifully crafted by director Jonathan Levine, who shoots with a rather grim pallet as opposed to his previous feature (‘The Wackness’). This at first feels slightly odd and gives the film a jaunty tone, but you soon realise that it works very well as a reminder that there is an inescapable, morose undercurrent to the seam of laughter that runs parallel. In stark contrast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a rather warm performance, balancing the richly comic and downright heartbreaking elements of the script perfectly. His understated and reserved performance steadily crescendos and culminates in one of the most tearfully emotive scenes of the year. And, to my surprise, Seth Rogen’s comedic schtick seems to be getting more and more efficient, too. It’s like the Jabba the Hutt of cheap jokes started working out; now his puerile misogyny lands 7 out of 10 punches instead of 7 out of 70.
The film is not flawless, however. I’m still grumpy about the fact that this is yet another movie of “male friendship” in which the inside-banter of late-20ish men is displayed as though it were some great ethnographic find – “froggy position” you say? Fascinating! The whole laddish camaraderie thing is a little off-putting, especially during a creepily rapey scene where the bros destroy an ex-girlfriend’s painting by setting it alight and then throwing axes at it while laughing, which for me can only possibly construe the message: “Fuck bitches! Men rule! ‘S’cool cuz he got cancer!” The film treads a very fine line and sometimes it falls when trying to insert the pot jokes and sex talk into the deeper morality in motion, which is inevitable for a screenplay that offers the audience insights ranging from “bitches who live with you should be REQUIRED to give you blow jobs” to “do not be ashamed of confronting the fact of a loved one’s impending death from cancer with them.”
But all in all, 50/50 is pretty successful as a character-driven comedy about potentially sensitive subject matter; while nothing surprising happens, you still want to watch scenes to their ultimate conclusion thanks to the moody aesthetics of Levine and onscreen charm of Gordon-Levitt.