Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 27 year old who’s living a pretty daily routine without too many distractions or interferences from outside his own circle of familiarity. Working and spending time with his girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), also ignoring his overprotective mother (Anjelica Houston) or just alone watching movies or reading a book. Everything changes however when Adam is told by a doctor who doesn’t seem to care in the least, that he has a rare form of spinal cancer. Adam is stunned, “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I recycle” he says. It makes you think that anyone can get cancer, even if their healthy. He finds out through the internet that he has a 50/50 chance. He then starts to see a very young inexperienced psychiatrist (Anna Kendrick), she admits herself that Adam is her third patient. Form then on out it’s all about coming to turns with his family and friends, and his situation. Like his psychiatrist says “You can’t change your situation. The only think that you can change is how you choose to deal with it.” “50/50” is actually based loosely on the real life story of Will Reiser.
A movie about cancer can easily go very wrong. The script is the most important thing in a movie about cancer, and it is tricky. You can overplay the drama, or the humor too much. This has plagued other cancer movies in the past. But “50/50” avoids this recurring problem. To get it just right you must have a healthy mix of humor and drama that flows well, this movie is the first to do that almost perfectly. I guess all it takes to write a great script dealing with cancer is if a cancer survivor writes it. This story is unforced and is told in an honest way. Cancer isn’t the conflict within itself here, but it so dramatically changes the way the patient looks at life and how it changes relationships he has for better or worse.
Director Jonathan Levine takes the right approach to this subject matter. He stands to the side, and frame each scene honestly, and let the actors drive the story (they all succeed at this). He lets the actors improvise, and everyone excels at his (especially Gordon-Levitt and Rogen). This gives the movie a more realist feel. Levine knows that a lot of how you deal with cancer depends on a certain mood and perspective at any time.
Seth Rogen is real life friends with Reiser, and he basically plays himself in the movie. I am not a big fan of Rogen, he just has never been that funny to me. His best movie was “Funny People”, which was also a movie about cancer, but not as good as this one. He is great here. This is all thanks to the script, his humor is not overplayed, and most importantly it’s hilarious. James McAvoy was going to play the title role, but he dropped out. I am not sure how he would have been in the role, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems like the perfect choice. He just nails it here. He has great chemistry with Rogen as well. They play off of each other well. It is just as strong as the guys in “Horrible Bosses”.
The other performances are great too. Anna Kendrick play her role extremely well. I could still see her character from “Up in the Air” in her performance though. This is not really a bad thing, since she is great in that kind of role. Bryce Dallas Howard is good even though she plays a unlikeable character. Anjelica Houston is not in the movie all that much, but she steals every scene she is in. She gives an excellent and believable portrayal of a mother whose son has cancer.
Another reason “50/50” works so well, is that it never tries to force you into any particular emotion. This movie will make you laugh a lot, but it will also make you tear up at times. The comedy in the movie is in a way what a good comedy should be, they use smart jokes instead of your typical poop and fart jokes that I have been seeing at comedy films quite a lot recently. The drama is as it should be as well, it lets you feel the emotion without manipulating you. As many good things I have said about the movie, it is not without some flaws. Like Bryce Dallas Howard’s character could have been use better, not differently, but better. “50/50” succeeds on so many levels though, and is the best movie to deal with cancer to date. There is way more than a 50/50 chance that you will like this movie.