50/50‘s subject matter is difficult to handle and easy to screw up. But the film weaves in and out of comedy and drama with surprising ease, making for an enjoyable movie-going experience that will certainly make you laugh and probably make you cry.
50/50 shares more than a few similarities with Judd Apatow’s serio-comedy Funny People, but this is a much better film overall. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, who pays a visit to the doctor because his back has been bothering him. Expecting easy to hear news, Adam is instead diagnosed with an extremely rare form of spinal cancer. As you might have guessed, the survival rate of this particular cancer is 50/50. With his goofy best friend Kyle by his side, played by the lovable Seth Rogen, the duo set out to beat the cancer together.
Gordon-Levitt runs away with the film, proving he’s one of Hollywood’s most profoundly human and relatable actors. His acting style is expressive and down to earth, which makes sympathizing with his situation easy for the viewer. Rogen plays well opposite him, providing most of the comedy. However, Rogen’s signature profanity and gross-out tactics sometimes seem out of place with the tone of the movie. There were times when his character should have been toned down, but rather his character provides some inappropriately distasteful comedy given the nature of the scene. So while Rogen and Gordon-Levitt work great together as a pair, there were times when the dialogue strayed into unnecessary territory.
The film is refreshingly honest in a stale period of American comedy. There is some very serious subject matter at hand here, but even when the movie takes a dark turn, Adam’s black humor provides some of the best laughs of the film. The relationship between Adam and his therapist (and later love-interest), played by the wonderful Anna Kendrick, is particularly demonstrative of this. Her naive by-the-book therapy tactics are called out, and Adam continuously makes snarky comments towards her. The progression of their relationship doesn’t feel forced. On the contrary, it comes across as very real and honest.
Nothing compares however to the brutally honest and relatable nature of the relationship between Adam and his mother (Anjelica Huston). Most of the heartache and tears come as a result of Adam’s strained relationship with his parents. Those who have friends who have gone through this journey, or those who have coped with cancer themselves, will probably have a hard time watching this movie. The screenplay is said to be loosely based on the actual experiences of the writer Will Reiser, and you can tell by the emotions that come out in the film.
Despite a few bumps along the road, 50/50 is funny, heartfelt, and well-acted. It realistically depicts what it’s like to know your mortality is in question. The humor and drama come naturally, making for a truly moving film. The odds are much better than 50/50 that you’ll enjoy this one.