Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Review by: Bill Jones
When I first read about 50/50, I was hesitant to embrace the project, as I’m sure many film fans have been. Tackling the cancer issue with a comedic flair is a dangerous proposition. There is an extremely fine line between success and failure when trying to meld something as serious as a battle against cancer — something I, as I’m sure most filmgoers will find hits close to home, with almost everyone knowing someone who has won, lost or is currently fighting that battle — and buddy comedy.
I was further hesitant knowing that Seth Rogen — who has had a few flubs as of late with Paul and The Green Hornet — was largely responsible for the project, not only as a star but as a driving force behind real-life friend Will Reiser, who battled cancer and then penned the script based largely on their relationship.
But with complete aplomb, Rogen and Reiser — along with Jonathan Levine at the helm and a fantastic performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the centerpiece — make sure 50/50 does a perfect job of walking that line of sentimentality and humor when dealing with its subject matter. And as a result, 50/50 arguably creates a much more honest film than the melodramatic fare usually associated with the topic of cancer.
Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, who receives a diagnosis of cancer at only 27 years old, and sets out to beat it with the help of his friend, Kyle (Rogen), his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his therapist-in-training Katherine (Anna Kendrick). But while he is faced with a life-threatening illness that statistics say he’s got a 50/50 chance of beating, he doesn’t completely change as a person. He and his friend still have a similar sense of humor, and that plays out in scenes in which they try to use the sympathy the illness garners to pick up girls.
What follows is a teeter-totter of emotion. Rogen and Gordon-Levitt find plenty of laughs from things like Adam’s decision to preemptively shave his hair before he starts losing it all, to the textbook methods of the still-learning therapist, to the way they handle Adam’s girlfriend, who isn’t quite ready to cope with his problem. But there is also sentimentality in things like Adam’s chemotherapy group (which he bonds with, despite an age gap), a realization of the depth of the friendship between Adam and Kyle, and the climax of the film.
Though it is not nearly as vulgar, 50/50 has a lot in common with Rogen and Evan Golberg’s (Golberg also produces here) Superbad, and for that matter the Judd Apatow productions in which Rogen has also been involved, in that it definitely relies on humor as a driving force, but there is an important underlying sentimentality. With 50/50, the sentimentality rises straight to the surface, but the balance is still there.
And though we’re often laughing with the characters, it’s hard not to think they’re laughing because it’s an easier way for them to cope with the issue than having melodramatic conversations about life and death. Still, they feel for one another. And by the end of 50/50, we feel for them, too. And though the film has its faults — the inherent medical marijuana humor is drawn out and the therapist relationship seems a little contrived near the end — it’s easy to overlook the faults in favor of what 50/50 accomplishes. It’s a great movie, and maybe the only one truly of its kind.
For more info, 50-50themovie.com