What an incredibly inspiring film. Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 walks the fine line of films about people with cancer, and it so brilliantly manages to be honest and reserved, never tripping into the hackneyed mush that we’ve all seen a million times since Terms of Endearment (which gets a funny mention in this movie).
50/50 is about a young man, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who finds out that he has a rare form of “back cancer”, and how he deals with his life and relationships afterwards, knowing that he has a 50/50 chance of surviving. A bold move was to show us the hardships of this journey, without making us cringe, and to show us some powerful, emotional moments, without ever coming across as cheap and sappy. Adam refuses to go quietly, and in doing so begins to live more boldly. He goes to clubs, eats “special” cookies with the humorous geriatric cancer patients, torches art, adopts a dog named Skeletor, and in a wonderfully tense scene learns to drive for the first time in his life. The film emerges as a passionate celebration of living, a sometimes frank look at the pain cancer can cause in the lives of everyone involved, and one of the best comedies of the year. It’s a comedy with a warm heart, and an amusingly sick sense of humor. When Adam begins to shave his head in preparation for chemotherapy, he asks his friend Kyle what he uses his clippers for. Kyle, played by Seth Rogen, remains awkwardly silent and then says, “Uh, my…uh…body.”
The characters are richly portrayed by a full cast of talented actors, including Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston, Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer, and of course Levitt. The characters are so dimensional, and the slow, patient reveal of all of their sides to the audience is the mark of fine writing and a director who knows what he’s doing. And I never thought I’d say this, but Rogen is a great actor. His character may seem to be a mere uninterested stoner, but he has a very caring nature underneath the beard and curly hair. When he stands up for Adam during a particularly rough argument between Adam and his ex-girlfriend, you can’t help but wish he was your friend too. I have always found Rogen amusing, but here he truly shines. Darn it, he even managed to pull at my emotions, and once while he was sleeping. I underestimated that guy.
It’s a mildly raunchy comedy with deep characters who inhabit a story that will not only inspire you, but make you laugh, and probably cry as well. And there’s a nice little romance to boot. I can honestly say that no film has ever brought from me a laugh of joy and relief that was as genuine as the one that I caught myself uttering during one of the later scenes. It took me by surprise, and then I just smiled as I realized that this truly was a great film that I was watching.
What more do you want?
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.
Running Time: 99 Minutes.
Released in theaters on September 30th, 2011.