Saw 50/50 this weekend and, first off, go see it. Great comedy. Great drama. Hard to do that well, but director Jonathan Levine, working off a better-get-a-nod screenplay by Will Reiser, pulls it off.
As I was watching, it occurred to me that Seth Rogen, who plays the best friend, is basically doing his Seth Rogen schtick, and it works remarkably well in this largely dramatic setting. Then it occurred to me that, had I never seen Seth Rogen before, had I never seen him do the exact same thing in 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, I’d be thinking, “Wow, this guy deserves an Oscar. What an interesting, entertaining character he’s created.” Moreover, I’d think he was likely to get nominated because it’s a comedic role in a serious film, so it has the one-two punch of being entertaining and “important.” But, since we’ve seen this kind of performance from Seth Rogen before, it’s not remarkable. Except that it is.
For better or worse, Oscar nods exist in a constellation of performances unless the potential nominee is a newcomer. For example, Ryan Gosling’s performance in Crazy, Stupid, Love is a perfectly plausible—if not especially likely—Oscar nod contender. It’s humorous in a semi-serious film in an extremely memorable and entertaining way but—more importantly for this discussion—in a way we’ve never seen him pull off before. We’re used to the gritty and/or romantic Gosling of The Believer, The Notebook, or Blue Valentine. We’re not used to him making us laugh.
Range gets rewarded, as it should be. It’s one of the qualities I value most in an actor, and it can only be judged in the context of multiple performances. However, in principle, I find it specious to not judge a performance solely in the context of the film or work in which it exists. Seth Rogen should get a nod (or at least be a plausible contender for one) for his performance in 50/50. Not because he hasn’t done it before, but because it works for the film.
Or maybe they should just add a Best Casting category and call it a wash.