It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to have cancer. I don’t get sick very often. I am used to being rather thin, and I’ve grown quite fond of my hair.
But screenwriter Will Reiser has had cancer, and he transmitted those emotions into a movie called “50/50.”
The movie centers around a man named Adam, played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt. He works for National Public Radio, doesn’t drink or smoke, exercises and yet just found out he has spinal cancer.
He is told the news very casually by one of those doctors who seems to think everyone understands doctor speak. The weight of what happens hits him very hard, to the point nothing seems as bright.
His girlfriend is played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who is really emerging into her own since her work in movies like “Lady in the Water” and “Spider-Man 3.” His best friend, Kyle, is played by the delightful Seth Rogen, who is not venturing far from his normal cache of characters.
These people assure Adam he will be all right and they are there for him for whatever he needs. Despite how reassuring this is, Dave approaches everything with his usual intellectual sarcasm. This includes his interactions with a young therapist, Anna Kendrick, and her odd way of doing things.
Levitt seems perfect for this role. He approaches the beginning of the disease as would any person—as if nothing is going on. Adam is an intellectual, and a bit cynical. That’s how he approaches life, almost like a bit of a smart ass.
Through the written word, it’s difficult to describe the emotional range Adam endures. He experiences depression when he finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him. He tries denial when he feels he may die.
And in one of the more emotional scenes of the film, Adam goes through a mixture of both fear and anger when on the night before he is hospitalized for life-or-death surgery, all Kyle wants to do is get drunk and laid.
But the story is told in a graceful and satisfying way. The storyline is approached with a strong sense of realism. A lot of movies like this tend to go overboard—angry involves throwing things and depression is filled with crying and self-loathing. It’s kind of detaching. But “50/50” relies on the power and soft-spoken approach of the actors to make the movie relatable.
Levitt gives the best performance of his career, and he gives every line the weight it deserves.
Rogen plays his usual horny stoner, but a lovable one. The audience thinks he’s just after getting laid by hanging with Adam. But toward the end, we learn he’s been reading up on what a good friend should do in this situation.
Kendrick plays the young therapist who is able to get to the core of Adam, and the two form a relationship. Angelica Huston plays Adam’s clingy mother, who just cares about her baby.
The movie does have one flaw, though. It would have been nice for them to explore more of the stages of grief more clearly and directly instead of a select few. But, then again, maybe that wasn’t the screen-writer’s experience.
If anything, the movie makes up for lack of different emotions by making the last 20 minutes or so a powerhouse of them.
At its core this movie is about people and what happens to them when they are faced with a crisis. None of the characters is mean or insensitive. They are just dealing with life in their own way.
And the best person to credit this whole movie to is the writer, Will Reiser. He is brave enough to put his experience on paper in a hilarious and emotional fashion.
This makes for a movie that very easily conveys a certain message. No matter what life throws, you just need to approach it head on and hope your friends and family will be there for you, whether you want them to.
This is probably the most real and funny cancer movie ever made. It almost makes getting it seem not all bad. This could actually be the filmmaker’s intentions.