“50/50” isn’t a movie about cancer. “50/50” isn’t a film about a bromance or how a family rallies together in the end despite their differences. Instead, “50/50” takes on the concept of how normal people react, whether positively or negatively, to one of the most tragic diseases of our time affecting someone with their entire life ahead of them. The movie comes from the perspective of Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a 27-year-old radio journalist who is slammed with the reality that he has a very serious type of cancer, a cancer with a slim 50% survival rate. But the film isn’t just about him; it also puts a great deal of emphasis on those that surround him. This includes his stoner/slacker best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) who shows Adam the many ways he can “take advantage” of his disease, his “supportive” girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard who has the burden of taking care of Adam thrown upon her, as well as his delightfully naïve psychiatrist (Anna Kendrick). Against his will, this also includes his “overbearing” mother (Angelica Huston) who already faces the task of taking care of her husband (Serge Houde). “50/50” is done a lot of favors by its exceptionally strong cast, led in part by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who carries a lot of the drama mainly centered around his character with ease, and has enough charisma, wit, and utter likability to help the film balance out the film’s constant juggling act of comedy and sorrow. Unconverted Seth Rogen fans won’t find much to like here, as he’s still essentially himself, but to someone like myself that’s never really grown tired of his shtick, he’s still a hilarious addition to the mix. As far as other note-worthy performances go, Bryce Dallas Howard has a pretty standard part, Anna Kendrick makes the film considerably more adorable every frame she’s in, and both Matt Frewer and Phillip Baker Hall have small, yet phenomenal parts in the film as Adam’s much older chemotherapy partners. Where “50/50” really finds its strength is how it manages to earn its humor and laughs throughout the film. The movie never flinches or backs down in its portrayal of the terrible disease its protagonist is suffering from. Almost like a slingshot there are these hilarious moments where Kyle is teaching Adam how to get girls out of sympathy for his cancer or introducing him to the world of medicinal marijuana, and then it springs back to how much this disease has uprooted his life and the lives of those around him, along with those very real consequences. There are several scenes where it’s almost overwhelming how desperate and one-sided this struggle has become, and it’s obviously where the movie finds its most dramatic moments and the best times to get the tears going. It’s not even as much of a spoiler to say you don’t know Adam’s fate (being 50/50) until the film’s last few minutes. However, in truly miraculous fashion almost against the odds defying the fear and sadness, “50/50” uses these same moments for some of its best comedic moments. “50/50” takes advantage of your lack of hope and vulnerability to fear and brings you to guttural, hysteric laughter because it recognizes how much we want and need to laugh in that kind of situation. There’s a beautiful moment towards the end of the film where Adam finally has to confront the “now or never” moment of his disease. Where other films would be crippling you with sadness, a clichéd inspirational song and a corny monologue explaining how “everything’s going to work out”, “50/50” reminded me of the harsh and very relatable reality of it all, and then somehow gets you to laugh along with it. I found myself laughing hysterically while still wiping tears away from my eyes; it was one of the most profound and touching movie-going experiences of my life. By the end of the film when it’s finally revealed how each character has met the challenge of Adam’s cancer, you gain an incredible understanding of each character and what the whole movie’s been about. “50/50” is a very special film; it recognizes the inherent fear and cruel, unsympathetic reality of cancer and it reminds you of that reality sporadically throughout the movie. However, instead of wallowing in the sadness, it does the impossible, and makes you laugh at the cancer and at the fear of it all. It’s a poignant triumph of humor over death, comedy over sadness; it’s one of the funniest films of the year but also one of the most emotionally resonant and powerful I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, all complimented by it’s fantastic cast and of course a healthy, if not at times raunchy, sense of humor. If anything else, “50/50” is worth seeing on the merit alone that it finally allows you to call a “cancer movie” hilarious.
50 out of 50/5 out of 5