Directed By: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Matt Frewer, Philip Baker Hall
When word of this “cancer comedy” hit, the hot question was, “Can cancer be funny?” Not only is the answer to that a solid yes, but director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser make a dismal subject humorous in the most honorable way possible. You may look and sound ridiculous when 50/50 makes you laugh and cry at the same time, but the embarrassment is well worth it.
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is your average 27-year-old. He enjoys hanging out with his best buddy, Kyle (Seth Rogen), is working hard to build a career in the radio industry and is attempting to take his relationship with Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) another step forward. Everything Adam’s worked for up until this point is thrown entirely off-kilter when he gets some shocking news; Adam has cancer.
From that point on, everything changes. Kyle opts to use his friend’s situation to his advantage, seeking sympathy from girls, Rachael struggles with whether or not she’s capable of committing herself to the situation and Adam’s mother, Diane (Anjelica Huston), swoops in whether her son likes it or not. The there’s the required therapy sessions. The hospital assigns Adam to Katherine (Anna Kendrick), a 24-year-old pursuing a doctorate and in need of training patients. Not only is his whole existence turned upside down, but Adam must also come to terms with the fact that his chance of survival is merely 50/50.
50/50 kicks off like a number of dramedies; we meet our straightedge main player, his goofy best bud and the girlfriend that’s out of his league. Adam’s the quintessential awkward good guy. While that may sound rather middle-of-the-road and unremarkable, the film’s humble beginning is quite appropriate as one of 50/50’s most impressive assets is its rousing crescendo.
Adam’s somewhat subdued reaction to the bad news also leaves the door open for the comedy. Many of the earlier gags come from Rogen while Gordon-Levitt holds strong in the unsuspecting and too trusting position. Kyle maintains his behavior as the film progress, highlighting Adam’s subtle transformation. We don’t watch as Adam struggles through well-defined stages of grief, rather catch the slightest changes in his behavior as well as the effects his situation has on the people around him, resulting in an unassuming story arc that still packs an impressive punch.
That being said, at times, the portions of the film leading up to that climax can drag the slightest bit primarily due to the fact that they’re a bit repetitive. While Kyle’s tendency to use Adam’s situation to get girls is amusing, the concept is a bit overplayed. Rachael falls into a similar trap, but the fact that you’re not quite certain of her loyalty keeps her rather dynamic. As for Katherine, at first, Kendrick really does seem to young for the role, but then she turns on her Up In The Air seriousness, oozing with wannabe professionalism.
Another issue with that slow burn is that it’s tough to feel Adam’s pain until late into the film. Yes, Levine establishes Adam as a very likable and endearing character from the onset, but because Adam doesn’t have much of a reaction to his initial medical report, the audience doesn’t either. Then again, while that lack of sensation might make you feel rather lost during the earlier portions of the film, when he really starts to accept the consequences and outwardly reacts to them, it’s all the more powerful.
And that’s what brings us to 50/50’s most notable accomplishment. When it gets to the point at which Adam is seriously tugging on your heartstrings, the supporting characters step in to deliver a handful of incredibly solid laughs. Crying and laughing at the time is a pretty extraordinary sensation and 50/50 earns that in the most honest and commendable way possible.
While 50/50 may not wow you all the way through, not a single moment goes to waste. Until the end, it’s very much a moderate feeling and that’s not only something that frames the film in a more realistic light, but also an element that makes the film’s third act as special as it deserves to be.