Death has invaded my life with ferocity in recent weeks.
Just this someone whom I care about lost her mother. In August I lost a friend – someone who can never be replaced in my life because of the memories and feelings that she evoked in me – to cancer.
I had no desire to walk into 50/50. My primary debate, despite a stellar cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Huston, was whether I was mentally ready to deal at all with a film that explores living with the Big C.
In hindsight, I probably wasn’t, but I’m glad I sat through what will likely be one of the best films of the year.
The movie directed by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) takes a serious topic and treats it with dignity all while turning it into a celebration of life. The performances are first-rate; the emotions are honest and occasionally raw with more than a touch of humor.
Gordon-Levitt (Inception) stars as Seattle resident Adam, a radio producer for National Public Radio still in his 20s, living with his girlfriend in what appears to be a relatively happy situation. That reality crashes, however, after he notices discomfort in his back that is eventually diagnosed as a rare form of spinal cancer. The reaction is palpable: “I’m just 27,” he says in a line meant to reinforce the fact that it could happen to anyone. Then the journey begins.
Adam starts the long road of chemotheraphy, meeting a couple of new friends (Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer) undergoing treatment in the process. Together they talk about how the disease effects their lives all while chewing on assorted baked goods laced with medical marijuana and cracking jokes.
Adam doesn’t learn how much it will affect him until his girlfriend Rachael (Howard) tells him that she doesn’t want to sit with him during treatment because: “I don’t want to mix that world and this world.” An alleged sensitive artist, she has the warmth of an iceberg.
His mother (Huston) wants to be there for him, but he pushes her away because she’s taking care of his Alzheimers-afflicted father. He’s referred to a therapist-in-training named Katherine (Anna Kendrick) with whom he’s reluctant to be honest. And there’s his best friend Kyle (Rogen), who is his rock.
The film owes much of its success to the snappy writing (courtesy of Will Reiser) and interplay between Gordon-Levitt and Rogen. They possess an easy chemistry and their characters balance one another. As Adam continues to deal with his situation and often comes off as morose, which is to be expected, Kyle gives him and the audience the needed humor to handle it. Although you know he’s partially serious when he advises Adam to take advantage of his situation to get laid, he’s also just trying to get a smile or laugh out of his friend. On occasion Adam even breaks out of his shell to fire off lines such as: “No one wants to (eff) me; I look like Voldemort.”
Levine does a fantastic job managing moments such as those with the movie’s serious ones. The movie is never too maudlin and never over-the-top with humor that occasionally borders on sophomoric. In short: with respect to Adam and Kyle, he lets guys to be guys.
That allows, Rogen, an actor-writer who broke into movies playing uber vulgarian roles, to be Rogen, returning to that repertoire. As for Gordon-Levitt? This is an award worthy performance. His portrayal is honest and peppered with scenes that send chills and shivers down your spine because they are so emotionally moving. The supporting cast complements what these two put together as a team.
Only one aspect of the film rings a bit untrue, but even that isn’t enough to spoil what is one of the most enjoyable and moviing, tear-inducing films of the year. Ultimately, 50/50 is an exploration of mortality that celebrates life. Go see it.
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Huston.
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Rated: R (language throughout, sexual content, drug use)
Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes
Showtimes: Check here for showtimes.