‘Hey, let’s go see that cancer comedy!’ is not a sentence you get to use very often. But 50/50 offers that opportunity. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50 is the story of Adam Lerner, a young man stunned by the news that he has a cancerous tumour growing on his spine. Directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Will Reiser with his friend Seth Rogan, the story is based partly on Reiser’s own battle with cancer. Rogan co-stars as Adam’s best friend Kyle.
Adam is a radio journalist who leads a straight life. When first told that he has a tumour, he’s confused, as he doesn’t drink or smoke, and he recycles. The first thing to say about 50/50 is that it is a very funny movie. Gordon-Levitt and Rogan have a strong chemistry and their scenes together are entertaining, as Kyle attempts to keep Adam in a positive frame of mind, usually by trying to get him laid. The rest of the cast is strong too, with Anjelica Houston as Adam’s mother, struggling to cope with her husband’s Alzheimer’s disease, even before discovering her son has cancer, Bryce Dallas Howard as Adam’s girlfriend Rachael, and Anna Kendrick as an inexperienced psychologist called Katie.
Although there is a lot of comedy in the movie, it certainly doesn’t shy away from the realities of dealing with cancer. Adam’s relationships with his mother and his psychologist are the most complicated, as he struggles to deal with his mother’s worrying and attempts to get more involved in his life, and he finds it hard to take advice from Katie, as she is younger than him and he is her third ever patient. Kendrick gives an excellent performance as Katie, and continues to be a star on the rise after stealing Up In The Air from George Clooney. Her attempts to help Adam deal with what is happening to him are clumsy at first, but their relationship grows and becomes a key part of Adam’s life.
There are some flaws with the movie. The fact that Adam’s father has Alzheimer’s is something that doesn’t have much of a bearing on the plot. Although it plays a part in complicating Adam’s relationship with his mother, there’s no scene where Adam attempts to tell his father what is happening, and as a result he’s often just left in a scene looking confused without saying anything. Bryce Dallas Howard also seems underused, with Rachael’s relationship with Adam coming to an abrupt end early in the film. The viewer is supposed to think of her as a bad person because of how the relationship ends, but little screen time is given over to showing why this is.
But the movie is driven on by another superb performance from Gordon-Levitt. At 30 years old, he’s well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best actors around, after stand-out performances in movies like Brick and The Lookout, and supporting roles in Inception and next year’s The Dark Knight Rises. He gives a measured performance as Adam, as he goes through various stages of coping with the cancer, from denial to determination to anger. Rogan also impresses as his friend, and although Kyle provides a lot of the comedy in the movie, there is more depth to Kyle than most of the characters Rogan has played in movies like Knocked Up or Superbad.
Overall, 50/50 is a very funny, but also touching and realistic film that deals with cancer in a way that is never patronising and never makes fun of the terrible suffering that cancer can bring. It has a relatively young cast that all give strong performances, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt leading the way as an actor really making a name for himself. So if you’re unsure of what to see at the cinema in the next few weeks, try saying to a friend ‘Hey, let’s go see that cancer comedy!’