Going into the movie theater, I knew that 50/50 was a comedy. However, Jonathan Levine’s new film is not your typical blockbuster comedy; it mingles the gravity of real-life events with the humor people bring to them in order to pull through. Needless to say, you would never expect to leave the movie theater having laughed, then cried and then laughed again within 99 minutes. Viewers are taken on an emotional rollercoaster as they follow an ordinary individual’s struggle through life’s unplanned obstacles.
Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27 year-old working for a local radio station in Seattle, Washington. He has a comfortable home and a gorgeous, but fake, girlfriend. You could say things are going pretty well for him until he discovers that his back pain is not from “too much sexual activity,” as what his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) thinks, but from a rare form of spinal cancer. From this point on, Lerner, already naturally reserved, is in a state of shock as he learns that his chances of survival are 50/50.
As he gradually absorbs this news, he sees a therapist named Katherine (Anna Kendrick), who, in all honesty, initially comes off as a total dimwit. Following her excellent performance alongside George Clooney in the film Up in the Air, Kendrick accomplishes her part quite well as the initially awkward, “I’m just trying to help” persona. The growing relationship her character has with Adam helps him endure the mental pain of chemotherapy as well as his nagging mother’s telephone calls and the break-up with his airhead girlfriend.
Another important character is Kyle, Adam’s wingman, who believes that through sex, alcohol and “profanity,” Adam can get through the grueling treatment. Kyle is the ultimate tool for comic relief. However, this dab of humor isn’t carried so far that it undermines the seriousness of the disease, but actually underscore the importance of the treatment. As a result, it is worth noting that all three of the main actors’ performances are exemplary. Nevertheless, I think that Gordon-Levitt’s poignant performance is praiseworthy and could possibly earn him a nomination for best actor.
The one thing that really struck me at the end was that this is one of the rare movies that shines a light on the issue of cancer. 50/50 is not like an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “General Hospital,” because it’s actually realistic. On one hand, it honestly portrays the mental and physical struggle of cancer. On the other, despite the touch of humor, it does not take the illness lightly or for granted but makes the best of the situation while still facing the cold facts.
This constant counter-balancing of solemnity and humor shows the way things truly are: Just because you have cancer, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop living. This positive endnote lifts the viewer’s spirits after an emotional ride and basically concludes with a big carpe diem. If you’re the kind of viewer who loves emotional intensity as much as humor, then this is for you.