Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
50/50 is a deeply personal film considering screenwriter Will Reiser based it on his own battle with cancer. Despite the inherent sadness associated with the story, 50/50 manages to celebrate life and leave audiences inspired and wiping tears of laughter out of their eyes. With powerful performances from the cast, including a game changing performance from Seth Rogen, mark this as one of the best movies of the year!
50/50 tells the story of Adam Learner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a man who keeps himself healthy and lives life right. Unfortunately that doesn’t stop him from hearing the news that he’s suffering from a rare type of spinal cancer and his odds are 50/50. As he struggles through chemotherapy he’s also struggling to maintain relationships with his friends and family.
There are so many things about this film that should make it a compelling drama instead of a hilarious drama/comedy. If anything this film should be held up as an example of how to combine the two genres to perfection. When Adam first hears the news of his cancer you’d expect him to hide under the covers and feel sorry for himself, instead he goes on living his life as Mr. Nice Guy. The drama doesn’t come from the cancer, although that becomes the literal black cloud over his head, but from how his friends and family deal with him dealing with the cancer. His best friend Kyle (Rogen) uses it to pick up women, while his mother (Anjelica Huston) smothers him with worry. The film becomes about Adam trying to make his family feel better instead of worrying about himself.
The film flies best when it has real conversations and it’s easy to see that Reiser based a lot of these conversations on ones he’s had in his own life. The first time he tells his mother he’s sick, she starts to get mad that he waited “a couple of days” to tell her. Every dialogue exchange feels real, not a contrived conversation to have the characters voice their inner feelings and keep the plot moving. The fact that so much insight is contained in a film that’s only 99 minutes shows how lean this story is.
When the film doesn’t focus on the dialogue, it’s about the characters. Every character doesn’t come off as wholly good or bad. Even Adam’s girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), who cheats on him and has a hilarious hatred of Kyle, isn’t all bad, she just doesn’t know what to do. The scene stealers though are Adam’s chemotherapy friends played by Phillip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer. There are not enough scenes with these two as they have a rapport that seems to go back years, and they convey so much of the emotion of what it’s like to live with cancer for years and have seen everything pass before their eyes, even the lives of others.
The most powerful scene comes when the film finally has to deal with the cancer head-on. Adam finally is forced to get surgery and the movie should get awards recognition for the heart wrenching scene of Adam saying goodbye to his parents before surgery. Levitt is just as powerful as a man worried that he’s seeing his family for the last time, while Huston struggles to literally hold on to her son for what might be their final hug. Everyone in the theater was crying and it was a triumph to both the actors and director Jonathan Levine.
Every actor is perfect in this, even Rogen who is another anti-hero struggling to cope in his own way, and there were no weak points when it came to cast. The only nitpick I found was the romance between Adam and his therapist Katie (Anna Kendrick). The ethical issues aside I thought it was a bit contrived to have Adam fall for his therapist and not anyone else in the hospital. I know she gets more intimate hearing Adam’s stories but it’s a cliché moment when the film was far stronger.
Regardless, 50/50 is a film that will make you laugh, cry, and want to hug your friends. The performances are worthy of accolades and it’s amazing how much humor and love can be based on a movie about such a heartbreaking story. The film isn’t a sad story about a man dying of cancer, but a celebration of a man understanding and realizing how much his friends and family love him.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.