By Chris Humphries
September 30, 2011
Cancer isn't a funny situation in itself; it's a life-threatening disease that rips the body, mind and soul apart. But in the case of 50/50, humor is found in how the individual, family and friends choose to treat the situation.
Adam Lerner, played by an incredible Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a young, healthy editor at Seattle Public Radio. He has a crude but lovable best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen in maybe his best role to date), and a beautiful starving-artist girlfriend (played by Hereafter's Bryce Dallas Howard). But everything is suddenly changed when he finds out he has cancer, and like anyone would do, Adam begins to see life differently.
Relationships, whether good or bad, are at the core of life and of this film. 50/50 explores and exposes all facets of the people in Adam's life, the connections that make him who he is.Throughout the film, they're given an in-depth exploration, with all of their cracks and flaws. His mother, portrayed by Angelica Huston, is overbearing, protective and skeptical about everything in Adam's life, but viewers sense her love for him—that her hand is the only one he can hold on to, despite his attempts to strong-arm. Adam's father has Alzheimer’s, but his lack of understanding brings a sort of peaceful humor to the at times dark situations. As we get to know Adam's girlfriend, her faux-activism and shallow concern is totally opposed to Adam’s sincerity. But Adam’s therapist, played by Anna Kendrick, is refreshingly honest, professional and able to admit she doesn't have it all figured out. Her understanding and patience prove to be a great asset to Adam’s journey through the stages of grief (which Gordon-Levitt portrays with a realism that could earn him nominations come awards season.)
But it is the character of Kyle at the heart of this story, perhaps because Rogen's connection stems from real life. 50/50 is based on the true story of Will Reiser, a screenwriter and close friend of Rogen, and this element gives a whole new light to Rogen’s character. Knowing that there is a personal tie allows the audience to feelthe pain best friends feel for each other in times of despair. His typical crass behavior is still on display, but with a depth behind it. Maybe his main goals are still to pick up girls and get high, but at the end of it all, he’s by Adam’s side the whole time. This is a new kind of character for Rogen, and he plays it with vulnerability and excellence, showing a diffe rent side of himself on the silver screen and adding a comedic bright spot to heavy subject matter.
Although hilarious at times, 50/50 doesn't come across as a comedy. It's a portrait of real life and all the pain, humor and honesty that is needed to survive it. Some plot turns are predictable, but they didn’t subtract at all from the incredible story. Knowing someone going through cancer only adds dimension to the film; it is definitely recommended to anyone needing a breath of fresh air in an incredibly painful disease and time of life.
Ultimately, this film is about control—and the pain of losing it. When other parts of life are out of our hands, we can cling fast to any fragment of ourselves that need our care. Like Adam, the things we do and don't control shape who we perceive ourselves to be. Our identity comes from the comfort of knowing what's next and the belief in our ability to change the odds that are against us. 50/50 is a powerful story about holding on to the parts of life we cherish the most—and the freedom that comes from letting go.