Dir. Jonathan Levine
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan, Anna Kendrick
50/50 is being marketed as an extension of the Judd Apatow brand of bro-comedy that has been done (and perhaps overdone) for the last seven or eight years. And to be sure, there’s hints of this in Seth Rogen’s performance. But this is definitively not the “Seth Rogen show,” nor is it anything like the treatment suggested by the film’s original title, I’m With Cancer. Rather, 50/50 is a poignant and heartbreaking look at the effects of cancer on the young, captured with warmth and honesty.
The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the stand-in for the film’s writer, Will Reiser, whose experiences with a rare form of spinal cancer informs the script. The film starts with Gordon-Levitt’s character, Adam, experiencing some back pain while running, and continues to document his first doctor’s visits, travails with his girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), chemotherapy, visits with the hospital’s therapist (Anna Kendrick), losing interest in sex, and coming to a dark place of almost giving up on life.
This is all captured brilliantly by Gordon-Levitt’s performance, which sees his laconic, implacable character go from acceptance to complete and total frustration. Rogen, too, is incredibly charming, dialling back his usual mannerisms into a character that the audience truly cares for. The director, Jonathan Levine, mostly just sets the camera in front of the action, but the film on the whole is well-made and well-acted. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few Oscar nominations head its way.
The subject matter suggests a film that would be a complete emotional slog to get through, but it absolutely is not that. While the film perhaps keeps things a little too light at times (aside from a few scenes of vomiting and Adam’s hair loss, Adam doesn’t seem particularly sick for the majority of the film), the film is clearly not trying to be some sort of nihilistic view into the depths of chemotherapy and cancer sickness. 50/50 is instead a celebration of Adam’s life, and its comedic moments make the dark parts hit all that much harder.