50/50 is a movie about cancer. In theory, this seems like a pretty horrible idea for a movie. We all live in a world where cancer kills a lot of people. We probably know at least one person who’s recovered from it or died from it, but it’s never discussed. Cancer has become the ultimate buzz kill, the absolute taboo of our society and for that reason, is a rare subject for a main character to take on. Fortunately, 50/50 is an amazing movie that transforms the bummer subject into a hilariously funny and incredibly heartfelt film.
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the definition of a good guy. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He likes his job. He recycles and probably flosses too. At age 27, Adam seems to have a really promising life ahead of him… that is, until he finds out that he has cancer with a 50% chance of survival. Suddenly his relationship with his artist girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) isn’t as steady as it once was. His worrisome mother (Angelica Huston) becomes unbearable. His overly optimistic counselor (Anna Kendrick) annoys Adam’s numb approach to everything. Even his best friend and constant companion (Seth Rogan) seems to be stuck in the fraternity phase of life that Adam is far removed from.
The real story began about six years ago when Will Reiser, writer of 50/50, was diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 24. To deal with his grief, he looked to his real life best friend Seth Rogan for guidance. After beating the disease, Reiser and Rogan wrote and produced the script for 50/50 because they realized all the humor that actually resulted from the horrible situation. Rather than creating something overly depressing or forcing humor, the Reisner and Rogan collaboration is honest and comes to terms with the fact that cancer isn’t always sad.
After hearing the premise, it’s easy to forget that this movie is a comedy and without Seth Rogan’s role as Adam’s childhood best friend, the movie could’ve tapped into a much deeper, darker place. His quick banter with Gordon-Levitt feels natural and sarcastic one-liners burst from his every scene. Even in the most self-serving moments, there’s something childish and appealing about the friendship. It’s easy to believe Gordon-Levitt as the well-kept 20-something who hates being late to work, but his progression into fragility and loneliness resonates with audiences on a personal level. Anna Kendrick’s sweet personality brightens the situation with her endearing awkward-ness and she acts as the girl every guy wants and every girl wants to be. Even the elderly cancer patient friends (and pot macaroons) that Adam meets in the hospital are a hilarious addition to the story.
It seems fitting that the most depressing, most sad scenes are quickly and starkly contrasted to the most hilarious and heartfelt. The characters seem so real because they tell a real story not just for Reiser and Rogan, but for the millions of other people affected by cancer. This excellent movie has the rare ability to make audiences laugh, cry and sometimes both at the exact same time.