50/50 (2011)

It’s hard to find the right mix between comedy and drama at the best of times, let alone when the subject you’re dealing with happens to be cancer. 50/50, a film where the main character, a healthy 27-year-old male named Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), gets cancer, finds such a balance, and becomes a wonderful film as a result. Here is a movie that will make you laugh and cry as it plays, and contains several strong, evocative performances along the way. It’s really the full package, even if it might feel a little too familiar.

The plot begins with us learning a thing or two about our main character, Adam. He is the nicest possible person, doing everything for everyone, having no vices, and … he recycles! He makes sure to bring that up when he gets told that he has a rare form of cancer, because that would factor in. Anyway, he does get cancer, which you might think would be instantly life-changing. It isn’t, really, although the rest of the film deals with his reactions to it, as well as the reactions of the people he surrounds himself with.

We first find out the impact it has on his girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), who starts off incredibly supportive but slowly begins to drift. We find out that his mother (Anjelica Houston), already dealing with his father’s Alzheimer’s, gets as clingy as possible. He explains all of this to his therapist, a student named Katherine (Anna Kendrick) working on her doctorate. And where would he be without his best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), who wants him to use his cancer as a lure to bring in the women for the both of them.

Each one of these characters gets enough time to feel like a real human being. In a movie that’s only 100 minutes long, that’s quite the accomplishment. We understand all of them and recognize what they want out of life. We see their growth and progression as the film plays out, and it’s very rewarding to watch them succeed, while it’s equally as disappointing when things don’t go their way. I was shocked by the end how much I cared about them all. And yes, the ending makes sure that you recognize your attachment to them.

The comedy aspect does not serve to undermine the drama, nor does it really make light of the situation that Adam finds himself in. Okay, so there are some jabs taken at, well, everyone, including the cancer, but the film is sensitive and is unlikely to get too many people upset about how it’s making fun of something very serious. It’s not like a film that makes fun of a mental disorder; it makes fun, but in a lighthearted, not mean-spirited, way.

It’s also really funny, which helps to justify some of the scenes that would otherwise serve no purpose plot-wise. I accepted their conclusion just because they frequently provided a fairly solid laugh, even if they could have been trimmed without anyone noticing. Seth Rogen serves as one of the producers, and I’m sure some of the scenes were improvised on-set just because he wanted to. The script was written by Will Reiser, one of Rogen’s friends and based on a true story, and Rogen is known for some improvisation. If those scenes are to his credit, then I must say that I was happy for his inclusion.

Speaking of Rogen, I think this is the first time that I’ve actually liked him in a movie role. He was fine in Superbad, but he actually gets to be kind of touching and actually fairly humorous in 50/50. I appreciated him more here than I have in the past, and if he wanted to make the transition to dramatic actor, this is a pretty solid audition, even if a lot of his purpose is to be the comic relief.

That’s not to take away from the other actors, most of whom are very good, but I almost expect that from them. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has consistently proven that he’s a talent, Anna Kendrick has been good-to-great in everything she’s been in, while veteran actors like Anjelica Huston, Matt Frewer, and Philip Baker Hall are all just fine. I wasn’t as big of a fan of Bryce Dallas Howard coming in, and 50/50 didn’t sell me on her. That’s in large part due to her character disappearing at the midway point, but in the first half, she wasn’t terribly impressive.

I was still touched by the majority of the film, even though it felt familiar. You know pretty much how it’s going to play out — it doesn’t drift too far from your average rom-com, actually — and it has no surprises to offer you. But it makes up for that by being funny and sweet. Sometimes you can base a whole movie around that and it’ll still work. This is one of those times. I had a really good time with 50/50.

50/50 is a great film. It’s very funny, it’s charming, it’s sweet, and while it makes fun of everyone involved, it does so in a good-natured fashion so as to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. When you’re dealing something as life-threatening as cancer, that’s the best way to go about it. Most of the actors, particularly the ones in leading roles, are very strong. I even liked Seth Rogen in this, which is something that I say very, very rarely. I was touched by 50/50, and if you’re looking for a very enjoyable comedy/drama, you can’t do a whole lot better than this one.

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