50/50’s earnestness and exuberance make it almost impossible to deride; this, coupled with the narrative’s basis of fact, makes it difficult to critique a film which, despite impressive performances, is middling at best.
The film’s writer, Will Resier, went through his own cancer scare in actuality, and it is his experiences that inspired the narrative. Seth Rogen, who stars as the supporting best friend, effectively reprises the role he played in real life as Resier’s friend.
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lives a life with which he is reasonably content: he is beginning to cement his relationship with girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), enjoys his friendship with best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), and aside from a few creative frustrations has little to complain about, aside from the occasional back-pain. This back-pain, thought by Adam to be entirely insignificant, serves as the impetus for the film’s ensuing narrative. As we quickly learn, the pain he is experiencing is caused by a large malignant tumour on his spine; through his own online research he learns that his chances of survival are 50%.
50/50 should at the very least be commended for its bravery in attempting to invest a serious subject with well-meaning humour. For the best part the humour does work, indeed it’s not from a lack of humour that causes 50/50 to ultimately fail. Despite the excellent cast 50/50 feels hollow somehow, some of the plot points, largely involving Adam’s young therapist (Anna Kendrick), end up feeling hackneyed.
Despite Gordon-Levitt’s best efforts, I found him difficult to truly empathise with: if it wasn’t for the circumstances created by the narrative, Adam’s character and his life wouldn’t be particularly involving. He’s not truly interesting in his own right, ultimately becoming defined by his illness.