'50/50:' What the Critics Are Saying About Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's New Movie

Chris Helcermanas-Benge/Summit Entertainment

Most write that Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes the film relatable, but warn Bryce Dallas Howard is quickly becoming “Hollywood’s favorite beautiful villain.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Bryce Dallas Howard star in cancer comedy 50/50, which opens in theaters Friday.

What are critics saying about the movie?

"The question 50/50 raises is just how far into sitcom territory can you venture with such material without trivializing the terrifying cancer experience?" writes Kirk Honeycutt in The Hollywood Reporter. "[Screenwriter Will] Reiser has it all over any other filmmaker who can only guess at what that experience is like. And maybe things did happen this way to Reiser, who as a comedy professional took the Norman Cousins approach of laughing illness into submission."

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Reiser also suffered cancer in his spine in his 20s, as does Gordon-Levitt's character. He has since recovered.

Adds Honeycutt, "Gordon-Levitt is such a fine actor that, with what amounts to a completely reactive character, he still scores big with easy-to-identify-with emotions that pitch him increasingly into a panic mode as the illness won’t loosen its grip."

But he takes issue with Anna Kendrick in the film.

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"It’s worrying that Kendrick’s role here is so close to her Oscar-nominated performance in Up in the Air as a novice professional who wrongly thinks she has all the right answers. But such is her facility with emotional transitions that she makes a success of a role that may have been written with perhaps a little too much condescension."

But, adds Honeycutt, "Even worse in that department, however, is Howard’s girlfriend, who wears her insincerity on her sleeve. Following The Help, Howard is in danger of turning into Hollywood’s favorite beautiful villain."

In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan writes, "As its title unintentionally indicates, 50/50 walks a very tricky line. As a comedy about a young man with cancer, it needs to be serious enough to be real as well as light enough to be funny. Though it falls off the wagon at times, it maintains its balance remarkably well."

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"Several factors contribute to that success, including artful direction by Jonathan Levine and an expertly assembled cast," he writes, adding that Howard is "rapidly becoming today's preeminent Queen of Mean."

"Though he was a last-minute replacement for a departing James McAvoy, Gordon-Levitt could not be a better choice to play protagonist Adam. Known for roles in films as diverse as Inception and (500) Days of Summer, the actor can play sensitive without drifting into needy, has an easy way with humor and is expert at getting audiences to identify with his predicament," Turan goes on.

"Because it is a comedy, 50/50 isn't intent on showing all the bad sides of a serious illness: Hospital personnel are invariably pleasant here and no one has to wait too long in an uncomfortable waiting room," he writes. "But, unusual for a comedy, 50/50 doesn't allow the humor to stray too far from the pain. We see the damage that fear, rage and chemotherapy do to Adam's life, and we are not allowed to forget that cancer is not just the disease-of-the-week but something that actually kills people.

"50/50 may be an unlikely hybrid, but it grows on you," says Turan.

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In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis writes, "50/50, a feel-good and slightly bad comedy-drama about a young man’s fight against cancer, aims to put a tear in your eye and a sob in your throat, if not for long. Certainly the waterworks don’t need much plumbing, as might be expected when the 27-year-old Adam (Gordon-Levitt), a Seattle radio producer, learns that he has a malignant spinal tumor. Shock and grief and bewilderment ensue as do jokes about barbered testicles and the wisdom of playing the C (as in cancer) card with chicks."

"That said, Mr. Gordon-Levitt keeps your sympathies, even when Adam enters wincing-relationship terrain with Rachael. (Ms. Howard improves with each performance but should be careful not to lock herself into shrewish type.) Rachael’s behavior doesn’t ring true, but unlike in some bromances, neither is she just another stick figure with breasts, and Ms. Howard makes a real character out of her. Other dividends include a very nice Anjelica Huston as Adam’s mother, the great Philip Baker Hall as a cancer-afflicted curmudgeon self-medicating with weed and, best of all, Ms. Kendrick (familiar as George Clooney’s foil in “Up in the Air”), an actress whose superb comic timing lifts the movie, and you."