Cancer. Just saying it out loud freaks you out right? There’s a good chance that this disease has ravaged someone you know and care for. When it happens, a feeling of helplessness emanates. There’s nothing personally you can do, leaving you to rely on doctors and equally unnerving words like chemotherapy.
Based upon the real life happenings of Will Reiser (who also penned the script), 50/50’s premise is nothing new, but the execution is marvelous. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has showcased no shortage of talent, like back when he was a dork in television’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, or when he was an even bigger dork in 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You. Later, thanks to Rian Johnson (Brick) and more recently Christopher Nolan (Inception, the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises), Gordon-Levitt has proven to possess the maturity to delve into more leading and layered roles.
JGL’s Adam is a reserved man, to say the least. He doesn’t drink to capacity; he runs; he recycles. An aching back becomes nuisance enough that he sees a doctor. What’s originally thought as muscle soreness is something infinitely worse. Adam goes through the necessary stages: disbelief, anger, regret, denial. To help deal, he’s sent to Dr. Katherine McKay (Anna Kendrick), a young therapist near the inception of her career.
Seth Rogan co-stars as Kyle, Adam’s best friend (also Reiser’s in real life. The film was produced by Rogan and Evan Goldberg–a frequent collaborator). Rogan plays his usual chuckle-head self, but instead of his over the top nature, he somehow comes across as charming. Kyle and Adam’s relationship teeters between hilarious and tender – Adam’s cancer becomes a way for Kyle to pick up women at the library and sleep with pretty barflies. Later though, his true feelings bubble to the surface and form some of the story’s best moments. Behind his oafish exterior lies a pudgy, chocolate-filled heart of gold.
The supporting cast is one of the best of the year. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Adam’s wandering girlfriend. She’s absent for the majority, but her behaviour at least partly allows Adam to embrace his untapped, untamed self. I mentioned Kendrick earlier. She has an endearing naiveté that’s ever present in her roles. She arrived on the scene during 2009’s Up In the Air, playing a child-like adult, fussing over failed relationships and occupational uncertainty. She seems more grown up now. Hopefully she’ll continue to expand, forever straying away from her association to the Twilight series.
My (and I’m sure others’) personal favourites were the dynamic duo of Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer, a pair of patients who share not only in the pain of treatments, but lessons on life and love (and pot brownies). Of course, it’s irresponsible not to mention the always outstanding work of Anjelica Huston. She plays Adam’s mother perfectly, with just the right balance of tenderness and smothering.
Two scenes are all you need to sway you. The first is Adam’s decision to shave his head prior to the drugs ravaging his body. A bizarre, but amusing exchange takes place between him and Kyle, debating the pro and cons. The second, while Adam is on a gurney preparing for his surgery. He glances at his mother, and she at him. They embrace, both regrettably resigned to a possible fate.
50/50 is that rare breed of film that effortlessly combines comedy and drama, creating a memorable cocktail that tackles friendship and family, while testing how far each can be stretched. There are certain hardships that strain our lives, some more dire than others. When these moments materialize, it’s vital to have someone to laugh with, someone to cry with – and, most importantly, someone to count on.