To anyone paying any attention over the past seven years, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been attempting to establish himself as one of the rangiest young actors working. Starting at Manic and working your way through Mysterious Skin, Brick, Havoc, The Lookout, and Uncertainty, he has enough indie cred to keep most actors sated for a career and has covered a wide breadth of character types. 50/50 is a nice addition to his resume, one that he took on less than two weeks notice when James McAvoy had to pull out. His lack of time for preparation does not show at all.
While this premise could certainly go the way of the painfully melodramatic, the film manages to pull off the dicey proposition of being a successful cancer comedy. Throughout the film, the comedy seems to come naturally; hell, the whole film seems to unfurl organically. Humor, joy, pain, anger: all of these things are character-based. They never come across as even remotely forced, and there is a tone struck early that director Jonathan Levine sticks to throughout.
As usual, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic. Somewhat shockingly, Seth Rogen pulls off the somewhat dramatically demanding best friend role with aplomb. Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Huston are well cast for their supporting roles, and the impossibly cute Anna Kendrick shines as the green therapist feeling her way through treating her third patient.
What 50/50 is is a smart, character-driven comedy dealing with a serious issue that touches just about everybody's lives. And it has a Gerry Rafferty song on the soundtrack, which speaks volumes.