Adam is a squeamish, humourless, deprived young man of 27. He is obsessed with cleanliness and might be the only person you would meet who would be excited to talk about the newest Swiffer. He has a beautiful girlfriend, who is more of an excellent roommate than the lover he would like her to be. He doesn’t speak to his mother, because she smothers him. He doesn’t have a license because car accidents are “the fifth leading cause of death.” Adam has just been diagnosed with spine cancer.
50/50 is promoted as a comedy about cancer, which is an oxymoron in itself. And the movie is hardly a comedy. Rather, it’s something of a sweet drama about the trials of a young man who has to come to terms with the fact that death could be peeking right around the next street-corner. Directed by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) and smartly written by Will Reiser, whose brush with cancer inspired him to write the film, 50/50 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, and Seth Rogen as his boundary-less best friend.
As Adam, Gordon-Levitt gives a raw, heartfelt performance yet again. His character is constantly trying to conceal the fact that being sick is scary as hell, or that his girlfriend is obviously only staying with him because he is ill and not because she loves him. He lives in an exhausting state of semi-denial, knowing things are not going in a good direction. But he pretends to be cool about them anyway. He resents complaining and he doesn’t want anyone taking care of him. Gordon-Levitt gives Adam a sensibility that makes him seem both physically and emotionally weak – but despite his pessimism, he is likable all the same.
His feelings of helplessness finally come out in a striking scene when Adam locks himself in his friend’s car, screaming and slamming the wheel with all the strength he can find.
As Kyle, Adam’s best friend, Seth Rogen is the lovable douche we adored in Knocked Up. His vulgar sense of humor and his carelessness are what provide the comic relief in the film. Without his character the movie would be way too dramatic, and perhaps even unrealistic. In our society, laughing about disease in public is a major taboo, but in 50/50, this is handled with extreme care. Even the funniest moments are carefully measured, and the jokes are never too brutal or in bad taste. “50/50? If you were a casino game, you’d have the best odds!”
The movie also stars the sweet Anna Kendrick as Adam’s psychiatrist; Bryce Dallas Howard as his girlfriend; Anjelica Huston (the definition of cool) as his smothering mother; Serge Houde as his Alzheimer-stricken father. Two older cancer patients that Adam befriends are played by Matt Frewer (“I’m Mitch, metastatic prostate cancer.”) and Phillip Baker Hall (“Would you like a macaroon? They have weed in them!”).
The film also features a great soundtrack (Radiohead was an inspired choice for the scene in which Adam gets his diagnosis.)
50/50 is not just a movie about cancer. It’s a movie about finding the courage to handle one’s falls – especially when the fall is so out of your hands, and so determined by pure chance. What better way to handle it than with humor and honesty? Just like its title, the movie tilts from drama to comedy, and again from comedy to drama. It’s never too funny, but it’s always bittersweet. In the end, stifled tears give way to stifled, tongue-in-cheek laughter.
By Radina Papukchieva
Follow me on twitter @Papukchieva