by Kendyll Boucher
A comedy about cancer has the potential to be disastrous. After all, millions of people suffer the horrors of the disease everyday. Everyone knows someone whose life has been affected by cancer- whether it is themselves, or a friend or family member. Chances are, their experience was not a positive one. Cancer seems like one of those areas that are off limits for a comedian. How could a writer find humor in something that brings so much heartache?
When Will Reiser was 24, he was diagnosed with cancer. He and Seth Rogen (Superbad, Pineapple Express) were close friends at the time of his diagnosis and they bonded through the experience. Rogen encouraged Reiser to write an autobiographical screenplay about his treatment and recovery. Six years later 50/50 was released by Summit Entertainment. Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) directed the picture.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam Lerner, the on-screen alter ego of Reiser. Adam is a 27-year-old NPR employee who follows the rules and does not take any risks. He does not even have his driver’s license- it’s the fifth leading cause of deaths in the United States he claims. He is shocked when he is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. The scene where Adam learns he is ill is relatable to any person who has ever been to the doctor. A callous doctor harshly delivers the news to Adam in medical terms, and then unsympathetically sends him on his way with a pat on the back and a recommendation for therapy.
This story focuses on Adam’s support system as well. Each person deals with his diagnosis in a different way. His overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston) tries to micromanage every aspect of Adam’s treatment. His live-in girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) initially steps up and offers to help Adam, but succumbs to the pressure of chemotherapy. Seth Rogen plays Kyle, a semi-autobiographical role. Kyle is the one who is closest to Adam throughout his sickness. Kyle is source of most of the comedy within in the film. Rogen plays his trademark ‘obscene bro’ character, but this time with a kindhearted twist. In the end, the audience sees a truly compassionate side to Kyle. Anna Kendrick rounds out the cast as Katherine, Adam’s therapist. Katherine is a grad student three years Adam’s junior and Adam is her third patient. Adam constantly undermines her techniques and practices. Kendrick shines in this role. Although she is one of the more serious characters, her naivety and charm make her endearing to audiences.
50/50 was the perfect movie. I laughed and I cried, seriously. The writing from beginning to end is flawless. The story does not lag, the characters seem real, and the directing is top-notch. Just when something devastating happens, a sidesplitting joke comes along. Gordon-Levitt gives a convincing performance as Adam. The audience feels his pain and suffering. Rogen is impeccable as Kyle. He steals the movie. His lines are effortlessly delivered and he is the perfect sidekick to his ailing friend. Will Reiser, Seth Rogen, and Jonathan Levine did the seemingly impossible- they made cancer funny. 50/50 was hilarious and heartwarming. It was one of the best films of the year.
Ten stars out of ten.
by Bryce Fallon
A popular saying goes that tragedy breeds comedy. From the darkest depths of human emotion and strife comes brevity, and if it is manipulated correctly, people can find it utterly hilarious. Such is the case with 50/50, a comedic take on dealing with a cancer diagnosis, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anna Kendrick. While cancer is usually considered a very heavy topic, producing zero laughs from anyone discussing it, the combination of great acting, a well crafted script, and smart direction keep 50/50 from becoming a self-indulgent pity party.
The film revolves around the perfectly normal Adam (Gordon-Levitt), who’s record is as spotless as can be. He exercises, eats right, doesn’t smoke, and has not even bothered with that pesky license thing that so many people have (because learning to drive would obviously lead to his ultimate demise). His outlandish bro of a best friend, Kyle (Rogen), tries to push him out of his comfort zone. Adam’s struggling artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) almost serves as a crutch for Adam to stay completely vanilla, as she relies much on him for stability and support in her aspirations.
Unfortunately for Adam, his life of normalcy does not last long, as he is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer, with only a 50/50 chance of survival. This causes an interesting ripple effect amongst the characters, sending everyone spiraling out of their comfort zone. Adam’s mother (the always lovely Anjelica Huston), takes her smothering to a whole new level, and Adam is just having a hard time dealing. He seeks out the advice of a therapist, who turns out to be Katherine (Anna Kendrick), a student still working on her doctorate. While the two don’t mesh right away, their similar paths in finding out to handle these new responsibilities thrust upon them create a common ground. Adam has no idea how to go about living with cancer in his life, but he finds out it’s going to involve him shelving his normalcy for a more chaotic and spontaneous life.
The real champion of 50/50 is the amazing script by Will Reiser, who based it on his own struggle with cancer. Thankfully his pal Seth Rogen convinced him to document his experience, as the realism and believability of Adam’s trials and tribulations, as well as the characters surrounding him allow for the humor to shine through. None of the jokes seem out of place or forced, and each character has their own sense of humor to bring to the table. Joseph Gordon-Levitt remains as charming as always while subsequently proving that (500) Days of Summer was not just a fluke: he has true leading man potential, and can easily go back and forth between lighthearted comedy and demanding drama. Rogen plays his part well, adding a little more heart than normal into his role. Howard continues her streak of playing the villainous woman, but her performance, similar to her turn in The Help, never lets the audience forget that she’s a real person struggling with the consequences of her surroundings as much as the likable protagonist. I have a particular soft spot for Anna Kendrick, who so effortlessly nails sweet, awkward girl humor without having to shout about it. I, at first, was puzzled as to why Anjelica Huston would choose a supporting mother role in such a small project, but she injects the role with a motherly familiarity and care that only intensifies Adam’s predicament. This whole vehicle is maneuvered very well by Jonathan Levine, who is able to balance the overall comedic tone with the severity of a cancer struggle so well.
While 50/50 did not have me laughing every second, it did have me thinking. I felt entirely comfortable in the world the film created, and believed every second of it. It pulled at my heart and made me laugh with the entire audience. Don’t let the cancer freak out; it’s pretty funny actually.
Rating: Nine out of ten stars.