I always approach the comedy/drama with a certain sense of trepidation, as it is very rare that a film that styles itself in such a way provides the comedic and dramatic goods in equal measure. At first glance, 50/50 appears to be a case in which getting this balance right is not only crucial to its success, but to avoid becoming disrespectful to its unusually sensitive subject matter. The movie is based loosely on the life of screenwriter Will Reiser, and follows a 27 year-old named Adam (Gordon-Levitt), a non-smoking, teetotaller who is diagnosed with a spinal tumour. After receiving the devastating news, Adam and his loved ones are forced to reassess their priorities and find away of living day to day life in the knowledge that his survival rate is only 50/50.
Will Reiser met Seth Rogan whilst working on the American version of Da Ali G Show, and they were firm friends by the time Reiler revealed that he had cancer 8 months after the series wrapped. Unsurprisingly, his screenplay is incredibly personal and touching, as well as being richly comic, warm, and at times, downright heartbreaking. The movie was originally set to star James McAvoy, but the producers were left with a day to find a new actor for the lead role after he was forced to pull out for personal reasons. It proved to be a blessing however, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb; his perfectly balanced performance is understated and reserved where required, but crescendos steadily throughout the film and culminates with a virtuosic, yet gut-wrenchingly moving scene which will have even the most stoney-hearted reaching for the tissue box. If Gordon-Levitt is the drama, then Seth Rogan provides the comedy, and does so with the usual charm. The chemistry between the two best friends is the key to the movie, and although there is another romantic interest in the plot, the real love story is found here. The jokes are typical Rogan: cheeky, filthy and always amusing, and the writing remains consistently funny, even in the darker moments although the emotional through-line is never sacrificed for the sake of a gag.
There are a wealth of excellent supporting performances too, with Anjelica Huston and Bryce Dallas Howard turning in wonderfully realised portrayals of Adam's smothering mother and excruciating girlfriend, respectively. Anna Kendrick, who usually has a tendency to irritate me like midges on a summer's evening, is completely loveable as the out-of-her-depth therapist, and exudes an onscreen charm that we haven't seen from her before. The upbeat nature of the script is juxtaposed by Jonathan Levine's somewhat moody aesthetic. The movie is shot with a rather grim pallet, which at first seems at odds with the films jaunty tone, but it works very well as a reminder that there is an inescapable, morose undercurrent running underneath the laughter.
50/50 is a joy. Wonderfully acted and sensitively written. It's a beautifully crafted comedy drama that is always as funny and moving as it needs to be, and provides a real human insight into dealing with mortality. It is simultaneously a great Friday night rib-tickler, perfect date movie, and a touching and inspiring pick-me-up, but most importantly, it will go some way towards helping people make sense of a tragically common disease which will affect almost everyone in some way during their lifetime- it has already gone down well with cancer charities like The Live Strong Foundation. 50/50 is a comedy/drama that manages to transcend genres and become something else in the process- important.