Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Will Reiser
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard & Angelica Houston
What’s not to love about a comedy, actually dramedy, about cancer staring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan? A little too much Seth Rogan, but that’s OK.
50/50 is the story of a late twenty-something, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who learns he has cancer, and how he and his friends & family deal with it. The story is a fictionalized account of a true story. The writer, Will Reiser, was in fact diagnosed with cancer and is friends with Seth Rogan in real life. At first Adam is shocked when he learns about his condition. He begins to tell the different people in his life, and they all deal with it and him in their way–some good and some bad.
Kyle (Seth Rogan) is the faithful friends who tries to keep him happy and focus on the possible advantages of his condition. Adam’s mother, Diane (Angelic Houston), automatically goes into protective mode–insisting in moving in with him to be there for him. His girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) at first is supportive, but is in a situation she was not bargaining for at this time in her life. Added to Adam’s mix is his hospital appointed therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) who is young, inexperienced, and hasn’t quite mastered the subtle art of the encouraging touch.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is playing straight man to the antics of those around him, and he does it very well. Both he and the writer are spot-on on how he deals with the news and the people around him. Adam’s phasing-out of the conversation when the doctor tells him the news and then coming back into focus is how I have dealt with information similar in importance. His fear of telling his mother because of her reaction is exactly how I would be. At this stage in his career, Gordon-Levitt has a natural ease for these roles–the young everyman finding his way through life. I really can’t think of another actor that would have allowed me to empathize with Adam as much.
The remaining cast is also good. Angelica Houston is perfect as the smothering mother. Her character actually fascinated me the most–the fact that she is dealing with her husband who has Alzheimer’s and is so willing to also take Adam on is a testament to her love and devotion. Anna Kendrick is spot on as the inexperienced therapist who got a very tough situation for her third patient. Bryce Dallas Howard has the unfortunate role of being the unsupporting girlfriend. Of all the roles in the film this is probably the hardest to portray, and the script gives her little support. The question you must ask yourself when judging this role is this: what would you do if you were in a relationship that has lost its emotion but had not yet ended it, and then the other person is diagnosed with a horrible disease? In the end though, the script sets up this character as a fall-guy. As for Seth Rogan, he is too much. He is funny, but sometimes it goes too far.
High points in the film and the script are certain one liners and small moments. “I smothered him because I love him,” drew the loudest laughs from me and the audience. The running gag of Katherine’s inability to pull off the natural physical touch for encouragement is great. The tiny moment when Adam discovers Kyle’s bathroom reading material is a book on how to help someone deal with cancer was emotionally powerful for me.