50/50 is a lovely little film that mixes real humor with true sadness and fear – the sucker punch of facing a life-threatening cancer and treatment at the age of 27. It’s based on the true story of the film’s screenwriter, Will Reiser, as he battled cancer in his 20s. It somehow finds a balance of poignancy and comedy, and pulls it off masterfully.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, the average nice guy who gets handed some serious lemons by life, and he’s pretty much fantastic. You feel so, so, so, SO bad for him, as he navigates his cheating girlfriend, his harried, bothersome mother, and the bleak, miserable treatment he must undergo – all of this basically alone. He’s marvelous here; I totally harbor a soul-mate crush on him (he was born just a few days before me and try as I might, I have a hard time dismissing astrological charts – which state that he and I would get along swimmingly). He’s such a genuinely good guy, just trying to live his life and give everyone the benefit of the doubt (he makes excuses for his cheating, selfish girlfriend, but not his mother), that you like him even more. His performance was touching, and real. It was interesting and heartbreaking to see someone face this battle who is in a different stage of life than many others, sometimes with a small support system, and other times, completely alone.
That “support system” consists of his mother, best friend, therapist, and a couple fellow patients he meets at chemotherapy. Anjelica Huston plays Adam’s mom, and can I just say how awesome it is to see an actress age gracefully? She does an excellent job of portraying someone who is at the stage in her life where she has to be a caretaker again, and is consistently overcome with worry. Seth Rogen (Reiser’s real-life friend) is the loyal goofball who cares enough to read books about how to help your friends suffering with cancer, and while he’s in Rogen-mode, he’s funny and sweet. Anna Kendrick – well, I always want to dislike her, but never can, she’s too consistently good. Her Katherine, a doctor-in-training whose work with Adam is essentially doctorate-fodder, stumbles through the therapy sessions, saying what she’s learned in school and awkwardly patting his knee as an act of consolation. She’s green as grass, but trying her best to learn her way around a field that, as she puts it, will allow to her “screw up someone’s whole life” if she does her job poorly, all while dealing with growing feelings for her patient. Each one of these characters adds humor to the situations, most notably Rogen with some pretty disgusting lines (as always, but they’re still welcome).
I don’t want to give a lot of the story away, other than to tell you how moving and truthful this film felt. Oh, it’s absolutely a comedy, (you WILL laugh), and a sad one, but it’s so, so much more than that. Cancer is a horrible, horrible battle for human beings to struggle against, and although any movie dealing with the subject will most definitely be sad, this one wasn’t typically cloying, schmaltzy, or even religious, which I found, for lack of a better word, refreshing. I often cry during these films because yes, they’re sad, but also, they’re beating me over the head, forcing my tears out. This one let them flow on their own, (for the last 20 minutes or so) because Reiser infused so much truth into the script, and watching a normal, real, likeable person dealing with something that could happen to any of one of us, is terrifying and inspiring. Inspiring us all to live a better life, a kinder life, and a truer life.