January 30, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 32°F


Infectious comedy defeats the odds

Echoing cross-genre films such as Adam Sandler’s “Click” and “Funny People,” which walks the line between comedy and drama, director Jonathan Levine’s new dark comedy “50/50” is a creative and effective mix of tragedy and humor.

When 27-year-old radio journalist Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer, he and his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) vow to enjoy life while he battles the disease. After he discovers his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) is cheating on him, Adam is left with only Kyle, his parents and Katherine (Anna Kendrick), his therapist, to help him through his treatment.

Despite points of pure hilarity, the film’s dramatic theme may put off viewers who prefer a light-hearted comedy. But for those looking for more than easy, mindless laughs, the film’s powerful storyline offers a worthwhile depth to the genre.

Levine portrays Adam’s battle for his life without allowing the film’s humor to make light of the situation. While Adam’s 50/50 odds of survival are presented precariously, it is never the point of the joke.  The witty, awkward and often profane banter between Adam and Kyle is reminiscent of contemporary comedies like “Superbad” and “I Love You, Man” as  Levine explores the typical storyline of men searching for women to sleep with. In one scene, Kyle facetiously urges Adam to use cancer as a pick-up line. While this crude humor allows the director to indulge in the jokes that make modern comedies entertaining, putting characters in the midst of a tragic life-or-death situation adds a darker theme some films in the genre tend to lack.

While Gordon-Levitt is not always the funniest character, he does well with awkward situations that allow Rogen’s sarcastic banter to flourish. Rogen is the soul of the film’s hilarity as the brash and perverse-talking best friend. Kyle’s confession that Rachael has been cheating is hilariously inappropriate and is just one example of how Rogan’s performance adds comedic contrast to scenes that could easily be depressing.

Levine uses Katherine and Adam’s romantic arc to lighten the mood of the film. While the “patient falling in love with his therapist” plot seems clichéd, Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick’s natural chemistry makes the relationship work. This opportunity for love gives Adam a future beyond his recovery, making his struggle more compelling and heart-wrenching.

Despite the charismatic actors, Gordon-Levitt’s imperfect pacing detracts from the film’s appeal. The film drags with an extended introduction to Levine’s situation. This shortcoming may stall interest in the film, but doesn’t ruin the otherwise prudent direction as the movie picks up after the diagnosis is revealed and the real dark comedy begins.

Appropriately awkward situations and cast chemistry allow dark humor to shine while the director’s character work pulls the viewer into a whirlwind of emotions, making “50/50” a welcome addition to a revitalized genre of more mature comedy.

“50/50” was directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Will Reiser.