Rogen Drags Down Gordon-Levitt

Main Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick

Director: Jonathan Levine

It’s still hard for me to believe that the kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun turned into Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  The TV sit-com wasn’t horrible, but to have spawned such a talented actor from its humble roots is pretty amazing.  Gordon-Levitt is without question one of my favorite young actors of the moment.  Come to think of it, he has been for quite some time.  I don’t think 50/50 is his best movie, but it is most certainly better for his presence.

Gordon-Levitt plays Adam Lerner.  Adam is a young man with a good job, a pretty girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a bright future – until he learns that he has a rare and deadly form of cancer.  His life sails off on a different track as he fights the disease and he learns a lot of things about himself, his loved ones and the world as he unwillingly takes this unpleasant ride.

50/50 was written by cancer survivor Will Reiser and supposedly is based on his experiences.  He and director Jonathan Levine put together a film with some outstanding performances and poignant moments.  Where they don’t entirely succeed is in the comic elements of the film and for that they are not entirely to blame.  You see, Seth Rogen plays the best friend.  He’s supposed to be funny but he’s really just the same character Seth Rogen always plays and I’m sick of watching it.  His voice, his laugh, his crudeness – they all take something away from what otherwise is a funny and touching story.  I would say it was a bad casting call, but Rogen is listed as one of the film’s producers – I suspect that Levine had no choice.  Go away, Seth Rogen.

Rogen aside, 50/50 is a good movie.  Gordon-Levitt nails the role of Adam, going through the physical and emotional trauma of cancer while also coping with the reactions of those around him.  His smothering mother (Anjelica Houston), his selfish girlfriend, his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father (Serge Houde) and of course Rogen’s obnoxious Kyle represent the outside world for the ailing Adam as he navigates his illness.  He also comes to rely on young therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) and veteran cancer patients played by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer.

While Gordon-Levitt is rock solid, some of the supporting cast falters.  Aside from Rogen, Kendrick is also weak.  Her character is difficult – very young and inexperienced – and she doesn’t quite manage to make the therapist as likable as she should be.  Houston isn’t given enough to do and her relationship with Adam fails to develop deeply enough.  On the other hand, Hall and Frewer are outstanding – they are funny and genuine.  And then we have Rogen.  Sigh.  He does have a few funny moments and the character he plays is essential to the story.  Kyle is very well written and his relationship with Adam is quite touching.  If he hadn’t been played by Rogen I think that friendship would have been able to be the heart of the movie as intended.  As it is, I just want Rogen off the screen, which is very unfortunate for the film.

Overall 50/50 is a good movie with some very solid performances.  It is worth seeing for Gordon-Levitt alone.  Sadly, Seth Rogen drags down the film with his inability to take the back seat to anybody, ever.   My recommendation is mixed.  The movie gets 3 ½ stars out of 5 and if you like Gordon-Levitt I think you’ll like the movie overall.  If you love Seth Rogen you’ll like it even more.  If, however, you are among the ranks of those tired of Rogen or never liked him he may well ruin an otherwise well executed film for you.  Let the buyer beware on this one.

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