Posted November 5, 2011 by William Dunmyer in Dramedy

50/50: Charming but Mediocre

Director Jonathan Levine’s previous film, “The Wackness” (2008), was imperfect but highly ambitious and full of unique, intelligent content. He also showed himself capable of directing one of the greatest screen actors in the world, Ben Kingsley.

With “50/50,” Levine takes a big step forward commercially but a huge step back artistically. From working with Ben Kingsley to writing Hallmark greeting cards.
“50/50” is a charming but mediocre dramedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in one of his flimsiest and least interesting performances. Seth Rogen plays the sidekick. Even Rogen is charming but bland. It’s quite a dubious directorial achievement to have even Seth Rogen come out looking middle of the road.
“50/50” isn’t so much a movie as an audition. Levine, it seems, is trying to prove to the Hollywood studios that he can be trusted with big-money projects. Read: he can do mildly charming pablum as well as the next guy.
If this was Levine’s goal, then he achieved it. He proved he can direct mediocre scripts and bring out mediocre performances and do it in a way that the TV-addled masses at the suburban multiplex will enjoy. Entertain us with familiar themes and familiar content. Do not challenge us. Warm up the left-overs from thousands of previous multiplex experiences. Dress up the familiar for us, and make us feel cozy. Dramedies for the Kardashians and their ilk.
What saddens me is that Levine is capable of so much more than earning a big paycheck. “The Wackness” may not have earned a ton of money, but it earned some money. And it will be remembered. People will be watching it a decade from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now. It’s a piece of work that will last. “50/50” is already forgotten.
Levitt plays a twentysomething who gets a surprise diagnosis: he has a huge malignant tumor growing fast around his lower spine. He has a flighty, self-absorbed girlfriend on whom he cannot rely, so he relies more and more on his charming, scruffy, straight-talking buddy (Rogen).
There are charming and heart-warming moments, and when is it not enjoyable to watch Levitt on screen? But everything is completely predictable. Anjelica Huston is a godsend, swooping in from time to time to provide some real acting, playing Levitt’s mother. And Anna Kendrick does a wonderful job as Levitt’s inexperienced therapist. 

Would that Huston and Kendrick had had more screen time and more characterization. Would that first-time screenwriter Will Reiser had had the slightest bit of artistic ambition. And would that Levine had had more on his mind than proving he could create cotton candy for the philistine masses. It’s depressing to watch real artists descend into sewers of conformity because they want to make millions.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.