50/50


So, it turns out cancer’s kind of funny. In 50/50, writer Will Reiser depicts his experience as a young man who survives cancer.

Reiser and 50/50 star Seth Rogen had been friends for several years when Reiser was diagnosed with cancer. After he became a survivor, he and Rogen realized that throughout the ordeal, their personalities hadn’t changed much - they still joked around; they still had girl troubles; they still went to bars to socialize and try to pick up women. Then they had another realization. There weren’t any movies about cancer that spoke to their experience. Most of the other cancer cinema were tear jerkers with little levity. And so the two funny men, who met while they were working for Da Ali G Show, wrote and set out to make 50/50, a fresh look at an old foe.

And the results are great. 50/50 is equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and heartfelt pathos. (Dare I say it’s a 50/50 split?) This balanced mix is maybe my favorite thing about the movie. Life isn’t always rolling-on-the-floor-laughing funny. And it’s not always devastatingly sad. In 50/50, the emotions always felt real; nothing felt forced or contrived, and the funny moments were funny because of the situations, not because of some sight gag or because the characters were being mean to one another. This careful balance is one many movies strive for; 50/50 actually attains it.

Director Jonathan Levine has assembled a great cast. Rogen, appropriately, plays the cancer patient’s (Adam) best friend, Kyle. Rogen mostly does his playful, jolly schtick, but he has moments of what seem like true emotion, no doubt mirroring real-life feelings.

Bryce Dallas Howard turns in a solid performance as Adam’s girlfriend. The pair have only been dating a few months when the cancer diagnosis comes and Howard’s Rachael has to answer the old question: Should I stay or should I go? Her choices make her seem like a bad person, but Howard plays her with sympathy so you can at least understand her actions.

As Adam’s young therapist, Anna Kendrick, great as the type-A newbie in Up in the Air, is terrific. Katherine is 24 and working on her dissertation. Adam is just her third patient. It’s safe to say that Katherine is also a type-A personality, but she’s not as tightly wound as Kendrick’s Up in the Air character. She’s more so just at the fledgling state of her career and trying to get it right. Kendrick expertly shows Katherine’s growth throughout the film, from earnest professional to flirtatious friend and possibly beyond. (Kendrick gets a little help from costume designer Carla Hetland: Katherine’s necklines get lower and lower as she becomes more and more friendly with Adam.)

And in the pivotal role of Adam is the passionate founder of Hit RECord, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt is an actor who routinely turns in inspired performances and he doesn’t disappoint here. He is not unique but certainly rare in his ability to do comedy and drama well, and he has many opportunities throughout 50/50 to flex both muscles. During most of the film, we see him bottling up his emotions. And then there’s a moment in the doctor’s office when you can see all the color drain from Gordon-Levitt’s face, his eyes go blank and his heart sinks as he realizes - finally - that everything about his life is changing. And yet Adam continues to bottle things up. After sitting and reminiscing with Kyle (they talk about prom and Adam, 27, says, “the memory seems so far away” - it’s heartbreaking), Adam finally lets out everything that’s been stewing inside him in one piercing, guttural scream that echoes loudly in the stillness of the scene. Kudos to Gordon-Levitt for committing so fully, and fearlessly doing what will truly bring this real person to life on screen.

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