In Theaters Review of 50/50: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen take us along for an emotional ride in this dramedy loosely based on the real-life experience of screenwriter (and cancer survivor) Will Reiser.
Cancer. It’s a word nobody ever wants to hear when they’re in a doctor’s office, yet all too many of us—or those we love—have. Writer Will Reiser (Da Ali G Show) received his earth-shattering diagnosis when he was just 25, and the story of his treatment, his (and his friends’ and family’s) emotional ups and downs, and his ultimate recovery is loosely reflected in 50/50, directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam (the sorta-kinda Will). Seth Rogen, Reiser’s good friend in real life, plays Adam’s best bud Kyle and also co-produced the film.
I brought an entire box of Kleenex with me to the 50/50 screening, as I was sure I’d lose it multiple times since (as I covered here) my brother had battled The Big C in 2005 when he was just 27. But believe it or not, I never started bawling—those of you worried that this one is going to be a big ol’ sob-fest, fear not. Instead it is a funny, touching, and realistic take on how a twenty-something guy decides to face his own mortality, and Gordon-Levitt is brilliant in the starring role.
Perhaps the bigger surprise (to me, at least, as I am NOT a Seth Rogen fan), was how perfect Rogen was as Adam’s most supportive friend. Yeah, there was way too much pot humor for my liking, and it’s kind of a shame that I’ve come to expect that from any film the curly-haired funnyman is in. But other than that, I was beyond impressed with how Rogen lightened the mood at the exact right time over and over again, and how his character was the one I related to the most. The two scenes I teared up at (remember, there was no straight-up bawling) were an obvious one at the end, along with a very unexpected one that was connected to Rogen’s character (although he wasn’t actually in the scene). To be able to evoke that kind of emotion from a viewer when you’re not even on-screen is quite a feat, no?
Much of the film revolves around Kyle and Adam trying their best to make Adam’s life still seem as normal as possible. There’s a subplot involving Adam’s emotionally distant girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard, who—between this film and The Help—has perfected her Bitchy Ice Queen act), of whom Kyle is not too fond and isn’t afraid to show it. Anna Kendrick plays Adam’s fresh-outta-school therapist, who’s so pathetic in her attempts to Counsel By Numbers that you (and Adam) can’t help but feel sorry for her. Circling the fringe is Anjelica Huston as Adam’s understandably frantic mother, who also has her husband’s advancing Alzheimer’s to deal with.
It’s the small moments that set 50/50 apart from other films and land it near the top of my Best of 2011 (So Far) List. Ones like the aforementioned scene that made me sniffle… OK, I’ll just tell you what it is because it’s not a spoiler. At one point, Adam is in Kyle’s bathroom and finds a heavily earmarked and oft-underlined book that’s entitled something like “How to Help Your Best Friend Through Cancer.” It just killed me. Here’s Kyle playing the jokester and putting on a brave face for his friend all the time, but the fact that he’s clearly read and re-read this book speaks volumes about how scared he, too, must be, and how seriously he’s taking his job as Adam’s protector and confidante.
On top of its nuanced performances and the expert way its subject matter was handled overall, I also loved 50/50‘s soundtrack. Any film that incorporates my all-time favorite Radiohead song, “High and Dry,” gets bonus points. It was no surprise that the Academy Award-winning mastermind behind the music from Up, Star Trek, Super 8, and more (like the TV series Lost), Michael Giacchino, handled the score.
Clearly I loved 50/50. I know that many of our readers have had cancer touch their lives, and so I’m especially interested to hear what they thought of the film. But at its core, 50/50 is a story about friendship and human connection—things everyone can relate to. I cannot recommend this one more highly.