Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston, Bryce Dallas Howard
Writer Will Reiser bases 50/50 on his own experience dealing with spinal cancer in his twenties. A great cast, helmed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Reiser’s outstanding script work to create a touching but funny perspective on handling the cards you are dealt.
27 year old Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) is living an unadventurous life as a writer for a radio show when he is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. According to the internet, he has a 50/50 shot of surviving the cancer. Unlike every other film protagonist who’s been diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, Adam actually doesn’t start trying to live out the plot of The Bucket List. 50/50 instead follows the difficulties of Adam’s situation, with a heavy focus on the various relationships in his life.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is absolutely one of my favorite actors; but all bias aside, he nails it in this film. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be told you only have a 50 percent chance of surviving cancer, but JGL does an incredible job of showing the complex emotions someone going through this would endure. He conveys the loneliness Adam feels, even when surrounded by others, yet also creates so much tension in the emotional scenes (if you’re a crier, definitely have some tissues at the ready). I was really worried about Seth Rogen being too Seth Rogen-y in this film. Rogen plays Kyle, Adam’s rather self-absorbed best friend. While at some points, he provides appropriate comedic relief, other parts see him as a ridiculous asshole. Rogen makes Kyle seem like an unnatural companion for Adam, and it takes away from the story a bit. Anna Kendrick also has a key role in the film as a PhD candidate, Katherine, who provides therapy for Adam. Kendrick is well-suited for the role as the quirky yet caring therapist, and a great addition to the cast.
For the most part, I felt that the writing in 50/50 was quite good. Will Reiser finds a happy balance between drama and comedy for the film, often leaning on dark humor delivered through Adam’s blunt observations. Unfortunately, the film is a bit bogged down by predictability in certain places. From the outset it’s obvious that Adam and his girlfriend (Howard) are not right for each other and will break up. Similarly, the moment Katherine is introduced it’s clear that she and Adam are destined to fall for one another. However, to his credit Reiser doesn’t let this romantic subplot take over the film and these minor grievances do not detract from the overall plot.
From the improvised head-shaving scene to lines like “No one wants to fuck me; I look like Lord Voldemort,” 50/50 is full of memorable moments. Despite a hiccup here and there, Jonathan Levine has created quite an excellent piece of cinema.