There’s never anything funny about cancer, but the new cancer comedy 50/50 will make you laugh till you cry. The movie tells a heartwarming, hilarious, and brutally honest tale about a man suffering from the dreaded disease, and his attempts to keep him and his family sane. With fantastic performances from its leads, and a deeply personal script from newcomer Will Reiser, 50/50 easily tops the list of the year’s best movies.
Adam Learner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lives his life right by abstaining from dangerous substances and exercising daily. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop him from getting a rare type of cancer where his odds of survival are 50/05. As he attempts to cope with the illness, he starts to develop feelings for his therapist (Anna Kendrick), while his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) uses Adam’s illness to pick up women.
Reiser writes from experience as a cancer survivor and 50/50 isn’t so much a depressing film about cancer, but one man’s attempts to cope with the multitude of feelings associated with the disease. Adam doesn’t retreat to his bed and wait to die; he keeps doing what he’s been doing and realizes that doesn’t work for him. He spends more time keeping his worrisome mother (Anjelica Huston) from smothering him, then he does taking care of him. The core theme of the 50/50 is that no one truly understands what Adam is going through; they just want to be saying the right thing and hope he makes them feel better. The conversations Adam and his friends have feel real and genuine. There are no grand monologues about life and death, but poignant talks of resignation, and finally being able to say what needs to be said. Reisers’ script deserves an Oscar, plain and simple!
The cast keeps the film as light as it can be, and even when Adam has to face his illness head-on, the group is more than up for the challenge. Gordon-Levitt always delivers but here he becomes Adam. He goes through all the emotions you’d expect someone coping with cancer would go through, but he does it with a smile as much as he can. When he finally has to have surgery, his interactions with Huston as his mother will make you sob. Huston herself gives a heart wrenching performance and both she and Gordon-Levitt should garner some attention. Seth Rogen steals the show with his boisterous role as Kyle, but he doesn’t show the same Rogen shtick we’ve come to expect. All the characters, no matter how big a jerk they are, show true love for Adam and none more so than Rogen’s character. Kyle may use Adam’s illness to his advantage, but he’s also internalizing his grief over possibly losing his best friend. It isn’t what Rogen’s saying, but what his face shows and I was shocked to see this kind of a performance from the comedic actor. Phillip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer are also sad yet hilarious as Adam’s fellow chemotherapy friends.
There’s nothing bad about 50/50 but the movie’s romance does feel too Hollywood for this movie. Kendrick is cute as the antisocial Katherine, but the script tries to force an age gap between her and Adam that’s not funny or necessary. Not to mention the falling in love with the therapist story is so tired and cliché and this movie builds so strongly on avoiding clichés that it pulls you out of the story.
Overall 50/50 is one of the best movies of the year! Go see it! Laugh, cry, and think about life and the astounding performances from one of the best ensemble casts of the year.