Movie Review: “50/50”

Written by Josh Litman October 18, 2011

By Josh Litman

So cancer is…funny?

50/50, directed by Jonathan Levine, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer, Inception) as Adam Lerner, a 27-year-old man who develops a rare form of cancer. This probably sounds like the beginning of some sappy drama, but in fact the film is often laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The title 50/50 refers to Adam’s chances of surviving the ordeal. One of the film’s first big laughs comes from Adam’s friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) who tries to cheer him up by noting that celebrities survive cancer all the time; except, Kyle’s list of celebrities obliviously includes Patrick Swayze. Gotta love dark humour.

Rogen (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) does his usual thing, but that’s no complaint. He’s side-splittingly funny here at times, whether he’s trying to use Adam’s cancer to pick up chicks, hating on Adam’s girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), or loudly taking issue with random stuff he deems to be stupid or irrational. So far, Rogen’s style of humour has failed to disappoint me.

It’s noteworthy that 50/50 is actually based on the true story of screenwriter Will Reiser who Rogen is friends with in real life. It probably accounts for why this film rings so honest and true. The dark humour only serves to make the story feel more grounded in reality; other filmmakers should take note, as humour is an oft used defence mechanism when dealing with horrible situations.

Also worth mentioning is Anna Kendrick in the role of Katherine, Adam’s young therapist…in training. Kendrick is just as awkward and cute as she was in 2009’s Up in the Air (starring George Clooney). Katherine’s by-the-book approach to helping Adam is hilariously forced at times (like when she keeps touching him), but Kendrick pulls it off. She’s just so charming and endearing you simply can’t dislike her. Or take your eyes off her. It’s great that the film shows this illness is not just a learning experience for Adam, but for those around him as well. It’s also nice to see that Both Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick have some natural onscreen chemistry.

Finally, just because Adam has cancer doesn’t mean he can’t also be a dick, and Gordon-Levitt deserves a lot of credit for making Adam unbelievably believable. Hollywood convention might dictate that a character suffering in Adam’s shoes should be portrayed as a saint so that the viewer can best sympathize with him. But the truth is that the viewer is more likely to sympathize (or empathize) with a character who feels true to life — warts and all.

If there’s one gripe I can find with 50/50, it’s that it can be fairly predictable — not just regarding the cancer’s progression, but other plot points as well. And yet, the film’s predictability doesn’t seem to hurt it all that much, probably because it’s more about the journey than the endpoint.

50/50 didn’t make me cry, but I was definitely tearing up for about 20% of the film’s running time. Okay, maybe I cried a little bit, but…it was negligible. Okay, what if I said I “bust a tear”? Would that sound more manly?

To be honest, this film hit me hard. Very hard. I’ve experienced the process of someone close to me suffering a rare form of cancer and the road was (and still is) an extremely difficult one, filled with pain, anger, and despair. But tragedy also has this habit of bringing people together. More than anything, I applaud this film for not falsifying the reality of the disease.

My Rating: 9/10

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About Josh Litman

Josh Litman

Director/producer/writer/actor/editor/cinematographer/musician/neuroscientist… Josh prides himself on being simultaneously awesome and modest. In addition to We Eat Films, Josh also produces his own work (films, writing) under the banner of Action Potential Productions and has his own website, too, where his handiwork can be viewed: www.actionpp.com -- or www.joshlitman.com (if you prefer).

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