Monday, April 16, 2012


50/50 (2011)
Biography, Comedy, Drama, 100 minutes
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Houston

What would you do if you were diagnosed with cancer?

Will Reiser's screenplay is based on his own experiences after he was diagnosed. That doesn't sound like a promising subject for a comedy, but 50/50 is definitely funny. It's also quite moving in places and the subject matter sometimes provides genuine drama.

I know that some people will avoid seeing the movie because they either have cancer themselves or know someone with the disease. I understand that choice, but I lost my mother to cancer when I was 12 and I'm glad that I bought the movie. I have friends who deal with serious diseases by joking about it. You would never know that they were ill. Just because 50/50 is a comedy, it doesn't mean that it makes light of cancer.

The main difference between 50/50 and a movie such as The Bucket List is that the main character is in his twenties. We all know that we will die one day, but it seems wrong to have a life-threatening illness at such a young age.

Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) works as a radio show writer. One day while running he experiences back pain. When he gets it checked out, it turns out that he has a large cancerous tumor in his spine. Rachael (Howard), his girlfriend, promises to give him all the support he needs. His best friend, Kyle (Rogen), insists that Adam will be fine. Adam's mother (Houston), who is already dealing with her husband's Alzheimer's, wants to move in with Adam help him through a difficult time.

Adam can scarcely believe what has happened and spends most of his time with Kyle. They regularly get drunk and high and Kyle tries to use Adam's disease as a hook to attract women. He seems to worry more about getting laid than the health of his friend. Rachael does her best at first, but when the reality of Adam's situation takes hold, she isn't as supportive as she expected to be. When crunch time finally comes, it's Kyle who is there for Adam.

We are shown some of the realities faced by people with cancer. Adam befriends other cancer patients at the hospital and they all have an optimistic outlook on life, despite the reality of their disease.

Another major character is Katherine (Kendrick), who plays Adam's therapist. She's 24-years-old and younger than Adam and he's skeptical when she reveals that he is only the third patient she's ever had. I enjoyed Kendrick's performance in Up in the Air and was impressed again here. Her character is much warmer in this movie and Adam likes her as a person despite her flaws.

The acting is good across the board. Gordon-Levitt is very good as Adam, without going over the top. Rogen's character is initially abrasive and somewhat annoying, but he proves to have hidden depths. The friendship felt authentic by the end of the movie. Anjelica Houston doesn't have a large role, but she makes use of every second.

The title refers to Adam's chances of survival when he looks up his disease on the Internet. The chances that you will like the movie are significantly higher.

Overall score 4/5

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  1. Nice review. I watched this back in December and after reading your review I want to check it out again. Great balance between drama and comedy and the performances are superb, especially JGL, Kendrick and Huston.

  2. I've enjoyed it both times I have seen it. I think I'll make sure my friends see it next time we have movie night.

  3. I never thought what cancer patients would think about this movie, so sorry to hear about your mother. It's a heavy subject, but this movie make it work. I like your last sentence : "The title refers to Adam's chances of survival when he looks up his disease on the Internet. The chances that you will like the movie are significantly higher."

    1. Andina,

      Yes, we all have sadness in our lives at some point. I don't think any subject should be off limits for comedy, as long as it is treated with respect. They didn't make fun of cancer, just the reactions of people around him. In fact, he made fun of himself more than anything. I don't think it would upset anyone.

      I'm glad you liked the last sentence :)


  4. My favorite film of last year for many reasons, but the main one was because of the very realistic script that balanced out everything well from its comedy, to drama, to the moments that made you want to cry. Great review Steve.

    1. Thanks Dan,

      I finally have a movie that my friends will like. I liked that balance too.