Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen
Directed by Jonathan Levine
You have cancer. You're going to die. You have a massive tumor in your body which will not go away. It has to be killed by doctors, if they can manage. They're all politely speculative. Or you will need life-threatening surgery. Otherwise, it's curtains time. Think about it. How do you react? Are you calm? Are you angry? Are you sad? Withdrawn? Positive? Can you even be positive about such a crappy situation? Do you draw up a bucket list and prepare for the end? Or are you determined to fight? How do your friends and family respond? Are they selflessly supportive? Are they consumed by grief themselves for the perceived outcome? Are they considerate? Do they listen? Are they even aware of your feelings as they struggle to cope with the idea that their loved one (perceived or real) could be coming to the end of their life? Is their thought about you, or about them? How do you cope? Your odds of survival are said to be half in half. Not bad, says your best friend. Deadly, you think. These are some of the themes examined in the amazing drama / comedy "50 / 50".
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, already celebrated for roles in the likes of "Looper" and "The Dark Knight Rises" (Not a word against Ben Affleck but why couldn't JLG have been cast as Batman in the next Superman film?) but who is a certainty to become a *massive* star in future, plays Adam, the cancer sufferer, and Seth Rogen, who has already established his comedic credentials, plays his deeply caring (although it might not often be apparent) best friend Kyle. This is a story of an ordinary young man, Adam, a polite unassuming, easy-going, journalist for a Public Service radio station, who discovers early on in the film that he has a cancerous growth in his spine, and goes about dealing with that through chemo (evidently), Psych therapy at the hospital, and thinking on life. It's a beautiful meditation of a picture which touches on all those things mentioned above, and more, without a hint of judgment. We just see things play out, and are drawn, tremulously, into the human drama of Adam's story. Adam is in a somewhat unfixed relationship with an artist called Rachael, (not a great artist, at that) who seems unwilling to commit. He isn't in any way close to his overbearing Mother (Angelica Houston). His father suffers from Alzheimer's disease and doesn't recognise him each time they meet. His closest relationship is with his workmate and best buddy (Rogen), although the two are as different as chalk and cheese. Kyle is loud, lewd and brash, always there with a cheap gag or a one-liner. Adam is quiet, introspective, withdrawn. He's the type of guy who will stop at a red pedestrian light whilst jogging, even if it's 6am and there's no traffic on the road.
The main thing to note about this film is that it approaches the cancer as a simple fact. There's no "Why me?" style angst. It is what it is, we all have to die eventually. Sometimes, life sucks. But sometimes that can make it great. As the story progresses and Adam comes to terms with his illness, there's a surprising amount of humour. Most of it comes through his relationship with Kyle, who will, for instance, use a trip to a bookshop to look for books on cancer to pick up the shop assistant, but also through the relationship with a group of fellow chemo sufferers, significantly a pot-smoking group of old men (including Max Headroom himself, Matt Frewer). It's as much about Adam as it is about those around him - I'd say about half and half...
The power of the film comes from the balance between the two emotional phases of Adam's condition. For the most part he is cold about it - this is happening, there's nothing I can do, leave me alone. On the other hand there is a huge amount of humour, and pain all around him. Having read certain user comments about the movie, they range from "It's outrageous, how do they dare make fun of cancer?" to "I suffered from this, and the movie perfectly nails the gallows humour you experience". As such, I really bought into it, from the latter perspective. The movie doesn't make fun of cancer, it simply depicts the way one individual might react to it. Added into the mix is the tender relationship between Adam and his Psycho-therapist at the Hospital, Katherine, played with immense charm by Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air", "End of Watch"). She is a rookie, still studying, and Adam is only her third patient - she doesn't have a good survival rate, as he figures out. There's a great running gag wherein she feels that during sessions it will comfort him if she places a hand on his knee or his arm, but he recoils violently. She can't figure why, as that's what it says to do in her manuals; he can't understand as it's so obvious he has shields up. It just injects so much humanity into those scenes. And there's a good Doogie Howser joke.
Without giving wanting to give away anything, the climax of the film is genuinely unexpected, tense, and extremely emotional. "50/50" is an very well made film in my opinion, unfussy but packing a punch. Although I, thankfully, have no direct experience of cancer, it strikes me as a movie which is true. It speaks to such a range of emotions - love, sorrow, anger, regret, humour, acceptance - perfectly balanced, that I just loved it.
Oh, and fair played to Joseph for shaving his head on camera!