Most comedies that attempt to tackle a subject as tragic as cancer often fall flat, unable to strike the right note. But, “50/50” is the rare movie that finds the perfect balance of dark comedy and tender charm in the midst of its main character’s horrible circumstances. While “50/50” is a very funny and sweat picture, it’s not one that overlooks the hardships that befall cancer victims. It’s a movie that sufficiently depicts people coping with cancer and, at the same time, makes its audience feel nothing short of grateful that they’re alive.
With “500 Days of Summer,” “Inception,” and “The Lookout,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to be one of our best and most under appreciated young performers. He gives one of his finest performances as Adam, a 27-year-old who runs regularly, never smokes, and doesn’t even drive out of fear of crashing. Despite being as cautious as any average human being can be, Adam still manages to get spinal cancer. After coming to terms with his condition, Adam is confronted with the daunting task of telling his friends and family the bad news.
Seth Rogan is perfect as Kyle, Adam’s loyal best friend who tries to convince his buddy to use his illness to pick up girls. While Kyle may appear to be in bad taste, he really does care about the wellbeing of Adam and provides the film with a much-needed down-to-earth edge. Anjelica Huston delivers a terrific supporting performance as Adam’s overbearing mother, who only becomes more controlling once she learns that her son is sick. Then you have Anna Kendrick, who is impossible not to be completely smitten with as Adam’s lovely therapist, Katherine. Of course, a romance sparks between the young doctor and her patient. But the movie does a surprisingly good job at building Adam and Katherine’s relationship without ever feeling false or forced.
The only character that maybe gets a little shortchanged is Bryce Dallas Howard as Rachael, Adam’s distant girlfriend. Although Rachael cares for Adam and attempts to stand by him, she is too weak to give her boyfriend the support he needs. It will be easy for most audiences to hate this character. But even Rachael holds some truth to the people who simply cannot deal with the fact that somebody they know has cancer.
I’m just a tad disappointed that Howard always has to get saddled with unpleasant characters because she does have the potential to play likable, strong leading ladies. But I guess I shouldn’t hold that against Howard, who is a consistently good actress.
Holding the movie together at all times is Gordon-Levitt as Adam.
He is humorous, such as when Adam walks through a hospital lobby while stoned, and equally gut-wrenching, like when Adam finally lets his anger out before a crucial operation.
Director Jonathan Levine finds just the right tone and Will Reiser’s smart screenplay is one to be remembered. Together, these men have made an uplifting and intelligent film that will leave anybody with cancer, or who knows somebody with cancer, feeling more optimistic.