As Jerri Blank once so eloquently put it, “Cancer? That’s hilarious!” In truth, the notion of a comedy about cancer, which is, in part, what 2011’s 50/50 is, feels like a risky proposition. However, despite the fact the movie is co-produced and co-starring Seth Rogen, don’t expect some sort of Superbad kind of movie. It is much more of a “dramedy” if I may use that portmanteau. Plus, the movie was written by Will Reiser based on his own experience getting, and surviving, cancer, and Rogen is a friend of his, so they can clearly put some of their own personal experience in there.
The movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam Lerner, a cautious, healthy 27-year-old, who is just going about his life, working with his friend Kyle (Rogen) and getting serious with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). Then, he finds out he has a rare type of cancer in his back, and things progress from there. As the title indicates, he has approximately a 50/50 chance of surviving. The movie becomes about how Adam, and his friends and family deal with this news. Adam, for his part, tries to press on, but his cancer changes the way everybody relates to him. It is particularly hard on his mother, played by Anjelica Huston, who already has a husband with Alzheimer’s to deal with.
It is really hard to delve much further into the plot without spoiling things that happen. Kyle tries to keep Adam’s spirits up, and also tries to use the cancer to help himself with the ladies. Adam befriends a couple of old guys who he sees during chemotherapy. He also begins seeing a young therapist played by Anna Kendrick. She is only 24, she is technically only a graduate student, and she is a bit over her head, but she means well.
The movie seems to vacillate between comedic scenes and dramatic scenes as opposed to having both together at once. However, it manages to handle the tone well. They never make light of cancer, but they also never fall into Douglas Sirk-esque melodrama as well. It feels fairly true to life. Some of the comedy is funny, certainly, although I wouldn’t call 50/50 a hilarious movie. That being says, the dramatic stuff works just as well, and it is a rather emotionally resonant movie. Come for the laughs, stay for the pathos.
Additionally, there are several good performances in the movie. Gordon-Levitt is almost always strong, and this movie is no different. Rogen is cast well in his role as a the goofy buddy sidekick, which is where he looks best. However, for what it is worth, I thought Kendrick’s performance was the best. I didn’t think she was all that good in Up in the Air, for which she received an Oscar nomination, but she was very good in this film.
50/50 manages to succeed at making a comedy about cancer, and it succeeds at being a very good movie as well. It balances comedy and drama expertly, provides the goods on both accounts, and is well acted and well constructed as a film. For a comedy, it has some impressive moments of film making as well. If you are looking for a straight up comedy, this may not be the best choice. However, if you don’t mind some serious stuff mixed in with your laughs, I highly recommend 50/50.