50/50, as Kyle (Seth Rogen) says, is pretty good odds. “If you were a casino game you’d have the best odds!” But he’s not a casino game, he’s Kyle’s best friend Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
Twenty-seven-year-old Adam is a clean living guy. Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, he even recycles but yet after having some back pain a routine check-up reveals he has a rare form of cancer. The main people in his life, girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), best friend (Seth Rogen) and mother (Anjelica Huston) all react in their own, distinct ways. Only two fellow chemotherapy patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) seem to understand what he is going though. A bubbly but inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick) provides some comfort, but may not be able to keep a professional distance.
Cancer is no laughing matter, we all know that. But “50/50” breaks taboos left and right, using Adam’s cancer as the basis for a comedy. Luckily it’s tempered with great performances, a smart script and real emotion. There’s no a false moment thanks to a script written by Will Reiser, the real life inspiration for the story. Reiser, a pal of Seth Rogen (who also produced the movie) and cancer survivor, finds just the right balance between mortality, romance and cancer jokes—one character says the more syllables the name of your tumor has, the worse it is—in a script that will have you laughing and crying at the same time.
Gordon-Levitt is the film’s centerpiece, giving a natural, authentic performance as a person facing his own mortality even though he can’t quite believe he’s in that situation.
Rogen, not surprisingly, is the comic relief. Once again, after getting sidelined by super hero movies and the like, Rogen is doing the work that reminds us why we liked him in the first place. As Adam’s skirt-chasing best friend he’s lewd and rude but he’s also brimming with warmth. His talent is his likeability.
The rest of the cast performs well. Bryce Dallas Howard, who seems to be making a career of playing villainess characters, brings her a-game. Ditto Angelica Houston who breathes life into Adam’s over dramatic mother. Kendrick also impresses as the therapist in over her head both professionally and personally.
“50/50” is a unique film. It takes a realistic approach in portraying a cancer patient’s life, but doesn’t forget to present a fully rounded view. It never pokes fun, but also doesn’t deny its darkly (and not so dark) humorous moments.
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