There are few things deemed as anti-hilarious in today’s society as cancer, so the decision to make a comedy concerning it is an eyebrow-raising one to say the least. At worst, I was expecting a bawdy, Apatow style cursefest built around a hugely irreverent central concept, what I actually got was a moving, funny and surprisingly realistic feeling story of one person’s battle with cancer.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 27 year old journalist who is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. After being told his chances of survival are 50/50 he starts to re-evaluate his life and his relationships with those around him, including artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and best mate Kyle (Seth Rogen). What’s important about 50/50 is how real it feels. Yeah, there are a few flights of Hollywood fantasy, but it mostly keeps it on the straight-and-narrow. The sense of realism comes from the semi-autobiographical script by Will Reiser, who was himself diagnosed with spinal cancer. It just so happens that Seth Rogen is also his real-life best friend who helped him through it, so Rogen’s casting in this film was a no-brainer. Whilst I’m aware I’ve used the word “real” about 100 times by now, the point I’m trying it make is that the film contains a certain truthful undercurrent, presenting unique insights and observations about cancer, chemotherapy and even facing one’s own mortality that seem to have been lifted from actual conversations, rather than simply being bashed out on a Hollywood writer’s keyboard. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is brilliant as Adam, giving us a character to really empathise with throughout. Rogen is the best he’s been in a long time here and may even convert some non-Rogenites to his cause with this performance. Anna Kendrick continues to be one of the best things about any film she’s in with a nervy, loveable turn as Adam’s newbie therapist. Anjelica Huston was also fantastic as Adam’s mother.
I realise I may have made the film sound like a bleak, grey documentary about dealing with degenerative diseases. 50/50 isn’t like that. It’s damn funny at times and the combination of frat boy jokes and real-world unpleasantness actually sit rather well together. For instance, Kyle sees Adam’s cancer as a fantastic way to pick up girls and a great excuse to smoke all the “medicinal” marijuana they want. Adam also manages to have a laugh with fellow cancer patients during his regular chemo appointments. The film manages to balance these lighter moments with the emotional scenes beautifully. As with all the best comedies, tragedy isn’t too far behind and 50/50 is one of the most affecting films I’ve seen in a long while.
I have a couple of problems with the film, but nothing that spoils it as a whole. Rachael’s vilification is just a bit too clear-cut for my liking and the ending didn’t sit right with the rest of the film. Still, it’s a poignant, well-written comedy that manages to be utterly devastating and completely comforting at the same time.
Reviewer: Ben Browne
Release Date: 26th March 2012 (UK &Ireland)
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard