He may have appeared in TV’s 3rd Rock From The Sun, That 70s Show and Numb3rs, as well as the big screen’s Halloween H20, 10 Things I Hate About You, 500 Days of Summer and now 50/50, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performances are anything but by numbers.
Here, he plays 27-year-old Adam who, upon learning that he has a rare, often terminal variety of cancer, must not only deal with his own confused emotions, but also with the complicated responses of others to the news. It is a demanding role, but Gordon-Levitt turns depression and despair into comedy of the edgiest kind, while making his character all the more sympathetic for his occasional outbursts of anger and aggression.
Drawn from personal experience with cancer, Will Reiser’s screenplay calmly observes the strange psychological toll taken on anyone forced into close proximity with death – not just Adam himself, but also his wavering girlfriend (Howard), his sexually opportunistic best friend (Rogen), and his inexperienced therapist (Kendrick). They are all flawed, but therefore also funny, with the laughs being organic situations rather than contrived set-piece gags. So while the title may refer to the odds on Adam’s survival, director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) also finds a subtle balance between humour and pathos. It might, though, have been better not to have resolved Adam’s life-or-death dilemma, instead leaving him (and us) in a 50/50 limbo where hope and fear count equally.