There are a few moments loaded enough to change the course of someone’s life. For Adam, that moment happens on a routine jog.
He goes to the doctor under the impression he’s pulled a muscle, but is ambushed with a cancer diagnosis. It’s the kind of cancer characterised by a long, impossible-to-say name, which in itself is a sign of its severity. His doctor comes off as sadistic by burying his diagnosis in medical jargon and gives him a fifty-fifty chance of survival.
A tumour? Me? That doesn’t make any sense though. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I recycle.
All of this makes for a serious premise, but 50/50 has the uncanny ability to dabble in comedy as it deals with the profound subject matter.
The story follows its natural course and simply shifts to and from uplifting humour to meaningful contemplation. We never know if the next scene is going to be funny or serious, and not knowing what to expect makes situations funnier, or more confronting. This is in part owed to the flawless direction of Jonathan Levine, who combines various filmic elements seamlessly, but is also propelled by the relationships between Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the family and friends that make up his support group.
Much of the comedy injected in 50/50 comes from Adam’s childhood friend Kyle (Seth Rogen). At first glance you’re fooled into thinking Rogen is playing the testosterone-fuelled character he’s renowned for, but that’s where the childhood friend starts from, and as they try to cope with Adam’s diagnosis, Kyle is revealed to be so much more than the wingman trying to get laid.
Rogen’s approach would’ve been influenced by his friendship with the screenwriter, Will Reiser, who overcame a spinal tumour himself. It might be unfortunate, but Reiser’s script turns to his experience with cancer and its authenticity shows.
Then there are the ladies in Adam’s life. His girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) didn’t sign up to be a bed-nurse, but she makes the commitment anyway. The diagnosis strains their relationship, but 50/50 goes one further in contrasting Rachael’s role with Adam’s mum, Diane. Diane (Angelica Houston) stood beside her husband who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and, upon hearing about the news, moves in with the young couple.
As Adam’s cancer matures and a surgery deadline approaches, so does Adam’s temperament and these relationships. We watch him endure chemotherapy with other cancer patients and open up to (or not) with a psychiatrist. This back stage pass is honest and revealing, but 50/50 is more enlightening than hard to watch.
In fact it’s not hard to watch at all. It’s entertaining and you can’t help but care for all of the characters. By the end of the movie you’re rooting for Adam to be okay with every fibre of your body, and when an audience is intimately concerned for fictional characters, well, that’s the mark of good filmmaking.
50 50 isn’t a drama, nor is it a comedy: You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll care. You’ll love it.