Heartbreakingly poignant and playfully humorous, 50/50 is a “cancer comedy” that transcends the line between knee-slapping comedy and meaningful drama. Additionally, 50/50 is an authentic rendition of executive producer and writer Will Reiser’s battle with cancer in his early twenties, and how he and his best friend Seth Rogen coped with the affliction.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, best known for his roles in 500 Days of Summer and Inception, plays Adam Lerner, a young man with a minor spinal problem that transforms into a rare form of cancer. Seth Rogen plays Adam’s best friend Kyle, who thinks Adam can be cured by random sex, shallow club girls, or medical marijuana. Other characters who think they know what’s best for Adam are his self-absorbed girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) who buys Adam a bony greyhound named “Skeletor,” his neurotic mother (Anjelica Houston) whose reaction to the news is “You waited a couple days to tell me?” followed by a prompt “I’m moving in,” and his well-meaning but inexperienced therapist-in-training Katherine (Anna Kendrick), who recommends self-help books and conducts laboring breathing exercises.
But they’re not all bad. In fact, the only extremely superficial character is Rachel, who is so far removed from Adam even when they are lying together in the same bed. She refuses to accompany him into the hospital because of its “negative aura,” and neglects to pick him up from chemotherapy treatment for hours, leaving him stranded outside the building for a night.
Other characters, however, have more depth. Adam finds in Kyle’s bathroom an annotated book about helping friends with cancer. His mother wants to be more involved in Adam’s life simply because hers is so tough, as she takes care of his Alzheimer-stricken father. And Katherine, while comically trying to touch Adam’s arm in a soothing way and extending her care to Adam outside her cozy office, makes apparent their inevitable chemistry.
Overall, the film was executed with meticulous care. Each scene was tailored to exude a strong emotion: joy, guilt, sadness, or contentment. The acting, between Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s stolid demeanor, Seth Rogen’s boisterous personality, and Anna Kendrick’s sweet disposition, brings the audience from tears to laughter without fail every scene. The soundtrack adds a beat to the madness, including songs such as “Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam and “To Love Somebody” by The Bee Gees which accompany both serious and light-hearted scenes. Finally, the filmography juxtaposes smooth close-ups with hard cuts in order to show the unpredictability in Adam’s life.50/50 walks the line between comedy and tragedy, while also emphasizing the human need for companionship in the wake of tragedy. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before in a film, and yet it’s happening every day: the cancer battle carries on, and everyone has a different way of waging that war.
I give the film an A, and recommend you see it before it leaves the theaters!