It is rare when a movie comes along that pulls at all of one’s emotions as much as “50/50” does. At first glance, it appears to be a comedy with Seth Rogen once again portraying a pot-smoking best friend. Indeed, the film is quite comedic. But the film is equally dramatic as it is funny. Like “Drive,” the film cannot really be placed within a specific genre. Just as “Drive” was not a typical action movie, “50/50” is not a typical comedy nor is it a typical drama. In a way, “50/50” could be called a “dramedy,” but even that term does the film a disservice. It sounds too corny, and the film is anything but corny.
The film manages to tell a highly dramatic story of a man being diagnosed with spinal cancer in a way that is humorous without ever being offensive. As someone who has dealt with a father having cancer, this was a must. The film is often very funny, but never to the point where it’s insulting. On the flip side, it also manages to move in a completely opposite direction, involving the main character coming to grips with his cancer in gradually different ways. The main character, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Inception”), is a smart, orderly man who works in radio with his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen, “The Green Hornet”). When Adam is diagnosed with cancer, he reacts in a way that’s to be expected; his emotions spiral and he has no idea what to think at first. But he forces himself to tell those close to him, and what follows is his journey to battle his disease with the support of those closest to him.
While personally I loved the movie because of the sentimental value it carries, this movie is accessible to almost anyone, particularly if they have been faced with death, been cheated on, have had an overprotective mom or a pot-smoking best friend who is always trying to get you or himself laid. In fact, it probably hits home for pretty much anyone. It is intelligently written, well directed and very well cast. Director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) assembles an unlikely cast and makes it work in the best way possible, handling each and every situation appropriately, making it so that nothing feels forced, be it the humor or even a sex scene. Everything serves an overall purpose, with the surprising assortment of songs for the soundtrack even being appropriate for their respective scenes.
Gordon Levitt is Oscar-worthy here, and gives one of the best performances of the year, capturing Adam’s denial, anger, depression and overall acceptance in a convincing way while never seeming to lose touch with his character’s identity. He is a neat freak, a bit shy, does not like being touched, is annoyed by his mother and he is just been diagnosed with cancer. He has to demonstrate these traits throughout the film, while simultaneously developing as a character as well. Cancer affects Adam, and Levitt does an outstanding job of showing the transformation and vulnerability that accompanies the disease.
Rogen obviously takes on his usual role of the funny man and handles most of the comedy while also providing a more serious performance. Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Help”) plays Adam’s girlfriend, who serves as another stepping stone in Adam’s journey to reevaluate his life. Katherine (Anna Kendrick , “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) is Adam’s therapist. Kendrick’s performance is impressive here. She is an all-around likeable character, and in a way, viewers may feel bad for her. It is sympathetic when most of Adam’s frustration is indirectly targeted at her, or when she is left in the hospital in one key scene with no one to hug, but by the end of the movie, she will win over audiences if she hadn’t already.
“50/50”’s story may sound depressing, but it is a largely uplifting film. It definitely has its sad points, but in the end, the film leaves you with a sense of hope and joy, and I don’t think it could have been any other way. The audience doesn’t want to leave the theater depressed after a movie like this. They want to come out of it feeling as if they just witnessed something worth while, and that is exactly what this movie is.