Here’s a risky idea: a movie about cancer that isn’t totally depressing the entire way through? 50/50 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a cancer-stricken twenty-something and his best friend Kyle, played with his usual raunchy-but-funny shtick by Seth Rogen. Based loosely on the true story of screenwriter Will Reiser’s life, 50/50 is not as gut-bustingly hilarious as most buddy comedies featuring Rogen (and that’s pretty much impossible given the subject matter), but it manages to portray life with the c-word in a more optimistic light than you usually see in Hollywood.
The toughest part about watching a movie like 50/50 is how relatable the characters are. Adam is a regular guy. When his doctor finally hits him with that awful word, Adam zones out and nothing of the continued medical jargon means anything anymore. He has a 50% chance of survival. You’ll probably space out with him and deny it as quickly as he does.
The people close to Adam all react to the news differently. While his father struggles with Alzheimer’s and doesn’t quite understand what’s happening, his mother understandably takes it the hardest. His girlfriend has clearly never dealt with illness before. And Kyle, while of course being as sympathetic to his best friend as possible, sees it as a new opportunity to meet girls and score some free medical marijuana. Coping and grieving means something different for everyone.
And then there’s his therapist Katie, played by Anna Kendrick. She’s so young and inexperienced that you have to feel bad for Adam getting stuck with an amateur while he may or may not be dying. Thankfully, he isn’t the kind of guy who sulks and pities himself. He has a sense of humor about it, cracking jokes with fellow cancer patients during chemotherapy and allowing girls feel his freshly shaved head. As tragic as a thing like cancer is, Adam and his friends and family have hope.
50/50, as the title suggests, walks the narrow line between life and death, comedy and tragedy, and offers some genuinely good laughs on a serious topic. Gordon-Levitt does a particularly memorable job as someone whose future is frightening and ambiguous, without being too dramatic or depressed throughout the journey ahead of him. As tough a journey it is, you’ll want to join him.