I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t pause for a moment to ask, “Do I really want to see a movie that’s supposed to be a comedy about cancer?” It’s just something that—like bacon and ice cream—shouldn’t be mixed—or so one might think.
50/50 is a film written by Will Reiser, a young comedy writer who just happens—in real life—to have had cancer himself and worked through it with best friend Seth Rogen who also happens to star in this film. It’s pretty clear that this is one of those works that was inspired by true events but not really tied to the original reality. Reiser and Rogen took the broad strokes of their personal experience and used those elements to craft this fictional tale. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a radio writer that can’t quite shake his back pain only to find he’s contracted a very rare form of cancer in his early 20’s. Like anyone of that age he’s dumbfounded at how this can even be possible. He’s also not sure how to even begin to wrap his arms around the idea and—like a pinball—just bounces around for a while responding to whatever pops up in his path.
The beauty of the film is that everything here is handled pitch-perfectly and it had to be that way or it simply would have come off as either bland or morbid. Rogen almost seems an odd choice here as he’s most known for the types of roles that would have turned this into the latter and yet he’s perfect in the role. Anna Kendrick as the novice therapist shines in every scene. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Adam’s girlfriend who seems trapped by Adam’s diagnosis. She’s not all that into Adam but how can she leave now and sleep at night? There’s also Angelica Huston as Adam’s mom and there’s nothing she can’t pull off with seeming ease and this is no exception.
This isn’t to say the movie isn’t without its flaws. It’s far from a perfect film. The pacing is rather slow and some scenes just don’t fit well. Also Adam, as written, is a bit of an enigma here. We never really get invited into his psyche to fully understand how he feels and that leaves the viewer continually off-balance never sure how the plot elements are going to go over with him. For example, there’s a recurring theme of his not liking to be touched. However, then this only seems to happen with the therapist. Why? We’ll never know.
In the end 50/50 pulls off a bit of magic that it deserves full credit for achieving. It scaled an impossible cliff and makes it to the summit—if a bit banged up for the effort. There are some very good laughs here and some appropriate cringing. It’s an enjoyable film that’s worth the investment.