Directed by Jonathan Levine
Screenwriter Will Reiser was diagnosed with a rare cancer at the age of 25. The good news, that doctors had misjudged the severity of the tumor Reiser had on his spinal column, was followed by news that he still had a long road ahead of him. The first draft of his autobiographical screenplay about his experiences was titled “How I Learned Nothing from Cancer,” but he finally decided on something more mainstream: “50/50.”
Inspired by Reiser’s experiences, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns unexpectedly that he has a tumor on his spine. “What? I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I recycle.” When he begins having relationship troubles with his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) on top of the bad news, Adam relies on his buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen, spot on) and therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) to help him through. Katherine forces Adam to face suppressed truths about love and family (especially rekindling ties with his mother, played by Anjelica Huston), and Kyle helps him live large while he can.
A Golden Globe-nominated performance by Gordon-Levitt was the proverbial spine that held the movie together (and truly, Adam’s spine was, in essence, the crux of the story). He demands attention with his emotionally charged performance, both somber and passionate. We root hard for Adam—not only for his survival but for his love and for his family—and the only way to get an audience that on-board is to completely sell each and every one. And Gordon-Levitt does just that. We feel his pain. His tender and poignant performance is the reason the movie succeeds, but he doesn’t work alone. Rogen is pitch perfect, hilarious but touching. It couldn’t have been too tough, considering the comedian, a friend of Reiser, went through the actual events inspiring the film. Anjelica Huston, barely recognizable in short blonde hair, gives audiences a reason to shed a tear with her performance as the pitiable mother of a cancer patient. Her tears flow like any loving mother in her situation, but no loving mother is crying in front of cameras with her fake son, an up-and-coming movie stud, lying on the gurney. That takes a little extra effort. And Anna Kendrick is a marvel as the blossoming therapist taking on her third ever patient. Her occasional verbal hesitations are brilliant beyond directing. As Adam’s fellow chemotherapy patients, Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer deserve enormous credit for giving this tragic tale some wit, but also some realization. They’re as funny and touching as anyone, but they bring you back to the point of the story. For such small parts, these men packed more than their share of punches.
Whether it was an accurate portrayal or a genius screenwriting decision, Adam’s love life is ideally executed. Love doesn’t happen in 100 minutes, so Reiser takes the romance slowly and realistically.
This story is powerful. It cuts deep, a tragically entertaining piece of art. Reiser walks the fine line between sincerity and comic charm, and never once loses his balance. “50/50” reveals truths in everyone’s life that we didn’t know we knew—it’s hard to watch, but it’s harder not to watch. And its insight doesn’t overshadow the comedy! With one of comedy’s biggest names and a few promising up-and-comers, there will be laughs.
“50/50” caps a good few days of cinematic experiences (three 8’s in a row!). This is a true and honest recommendation; you owe it to yourself to see this film. Just make sure you dry the disk of your tears before putting it back in the case.
“50/50” is now on DVD and Blu-ray.