50/50 is the odd type of film that explores death with a smile. The odds are high that you will laugh as well as cry, certainly more than the 50/50 chance that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing a late-20s radio station employee, will live after being diagnosed with cancer.
There’s a phenomenon of sorts that occurs in movies like 50/50 or dramedys to label a sub-genre of movie. Audiences laugh because they are nervous rather than because a typical line is funny. Co-star Seth Rogen has many scenes where he’s demonstrative but in a dramatic role, and Rogen in 50/50 plays a total prick of a human being. I saw something similar in Moneyball where Jonah Hill playing a serious character makes people laugh due to his persona and not the person he’s actually playing. Rogen was getting huge laughs in the oddest places. To my mind either Rogen or Hill could move into Tom Hanks (Bachelor Party dude gets solemn in Philadelphia) territory in a few years with the right roles.
As for Gordon-Levitt 50/50 is the right role at the right time. Gordon-Levitt has gone from scene stealing as a supporting player in movies bad through good (G.I. Joe to Inception), and even starring in some indie films that were hits and no so much hits (500 Days of Summer to Hester). 50/50 places Gordon-Levitt on a cliff where he must tread the dangerous path of a person too young to die and also too immature to die.
Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston add some distaff counsel and at times have their own scene stealing moments. Ditto a couple of older guys (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) on chemotherapy in one of the film’s typical scenes that demonstrates the dull reality of dying in ¾ time. With so much attention to detail and realism shown in 50/50 I’m still scratching my head as to how someone working in a mid-level job at a NPR-type radio station can have such great medical insurance.
– Michael Bergeron