The trailer for 50/50 is quite misleading. If you’ve only seen that, you’ll think that this is somehow a funny movie about a very unfunny topic: cancer. But this is not the case at all. Yes, there are funny moments, as there are funny moments in life, but at the heart of this film is a story about how people deal with the challenges that life throws at us.
The first scene of 50/50 shows us a very healthy young man, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) going for a run in a city park. There’s obviously nothing wrong with him, although we see that he suffers from a little bit of back pain. However, nothing in his life seems out of the ordinary. We’re shown his workplace – a talk radio station – as well as his home life – which includes an attractive girlfriend. And we meet his foul-mouthed best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen).
And then the world is pulled out from beneath Adam’s feet. Adam visits a doctor to get an MRI to determine what’s causing this frequent back pain. It is there where he is told that he has a rare form of spinal cancer.
50/50 is about how Adam, as well as those around him, deal with this news, as well as Adam’s treatment and the possible loss of his life.
This is not a funny movie about cancer. Because as we see, there is nothing funny about cancer. However, life has a way of still allowing us to find the humor in things even at our lowest points. That is the beauty of life. And that is also the beauty of this film.
We follow Adam’s life from his initial receiving of the news to his experiences with chemotherapy, medicinal marijuana and facing the very real possibility that he could possibly die. The movie gets its title from the 50% chance that Adam has to live and the 50% chance that he has to die. Adam faces this as any normal human being might. He goes through shock and anger and denial and every emotional stage in between.
Helping Adam to cope is his therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick) and his best friend, Kyle, who turns out to be more of a friend than even Adam had ever guessed. Adam’s mother (Anjelica Huston), too, struggles with her son’s affliction and refusal to talk to her about it due to her already having to take care of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
This movie sounds bleak, but there is laughter. Seth Rogen is all about the heart-of-gold funny and delivers wonderfully in this film. This role was obviously a no-brainer for him, but it was nice to see him there supporting Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Adam. Rogen’s take on Kyle makes you wonder if he truly cares for Adam at all, but after a particular scene where he’s yelling at Adam’s girlfriend, the truth subtly appears. Kyle is the sort of character that turns to humor to deal, and although sometimes it seems like selfishness, it really isn’t. Rogen potrays this dichotomy well.
Gordon-Levitt should receive an Academy nomination for his portrayal of Adam. He has such a way of making every thing he does onscreen so wonderfully honest. He shows us each of Adam’s emotions and his struggle with loneliness as he realizes that no one really understands what he is going through. In the end, Adam is 100% human and we realize that thanks to Gordon-Levitt’s performance.
The supporting cast are equally as good. Huston is solid as the mother who only wants to take care of her son, in spite of her own burdens. Kendrick shines as the inexperienced therapist who ends up truly caring about Adam. Bryce Dallas Howard as the girlfriend is easy to dislike, but she brings a humanity to the role portraying someone who does not want to stick around, but does try.
So yes, expect to laugh a little while watching this film. But also expect to cry as there are moments that are truly heartfelt and emotional.
The movie itself is understated, which is how it should be. Its moments of truthfulness will resonate with a wide audience.