Movie Review: 50/50
Rating: R (language, some drug use, sexual content)
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: September 30, 2011
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Stars: 4 out of 5
In "50/50," Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a quiet, laid-back radio programmer who is living with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). They seem happy enough, though Adam's best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) doesn't seem to like Rachael all that much. He is over fairly often, trying to get his low-key friend to smoke pot, get drunk or any number of childish things, much to Rachael's chagrin.
Adam and Rachael seem to be in something of a holding pattern with their life. That is, until Adam gets some bad news from his doctor. It seems he has a tumor on his spine that could threaten his life. He is told that with chemotherapy and radiation treatment, he will have a 50/50 chance of living, hence the name of the movie.
The diagnosis hits Adam like a ton of bricks. He is only 27 years old and feels like he has barely begun his life. He comes home to tell Rachael, who isn't quite sure how to react. She awkwardly expresses support for him and agrees to take him to all of his appointments. Adam prefers this arrangement over asking his overbearing mom Diane (Anjelica Huston) for help instead.
The problem is that Rachael is conflicted. She clearly cares for Adam, but doesn't seem to want the responsibility of taking care of him, even after pledging to do so. When she takes him to his chemo appointment, she drops him off and says to call her to pick him up. He assumed she would go inside and wait with him, but she has other plans. He begins to realize that maybe she is not in this for the long haul, which begins to create a rift in their already-strained relationship.
Adam finds solace in his fellow chemotherapy patients Mitch (Matt Frewer) and Alan (Phillip Baker Hall), who are surprised to find a guy roughly half their age getting the same treatment. The three become close friends as they try to navigate a world in which their significant others and families don't know how to talk to them about having cancer.
Adam decides to attend therapy sessions to help him with his conflicted thoughts. He is assigned a student therapist named Katherine (Anna Kendrick), who is clearly nervous. Adam immediately discerns that he is her first patient and tries to set her at ease. This is indicative of Adam's life right now-he has to provide comfort to others, even as he himself is the one with cancer.
The movie touchingly takes the audience through the wide range of motions one goes through when faced with their own mortality. Joseph Gordon-Levitt effortlessly shows the hopelessness that occasionally hits a person when they know that they only have a 50/50 chance of living. As he sits in his chemo chair and lets the chemicals ravage his body, Gordon-Levitt's face shows all of the weariness you would expect from someone in his position.
The script was written by Will Reiser (cousin of actor Paul Reiser), based on his own similar experiences with cancer at a young age. The dialogue is honest and bare, with more than a few touching scenes. Particularly affecting are the scenes where Adam confronts the immature Kyle, finally exploding in anger at how Kyle doesn't seem to take his dilemma seriously. As the two buddies make up, we find that Kyle's immaturity is his way of dealing with the fact that Adam might die.
Seth Rogen is perfectly cast in the part of Kyle, which requires him to be dramatic while also providing the comic relief. Up until now, Rogen had mostly been in gross-out or frat boy comedies, which didn't give him the opportunity to branch out. With "50/50," he shows that he has plenty of range as an actor. Don't be surprised to see him cast in more dramatic roles after this.
In fact, the entire movie is staffed with actors who are perfect for the part they are playing. Kendrick imbues Katherine with a charming awkwardness that comes from a place of really wanting to help Adam. She might be the only person in the world who he can talk to about his emotions. As he ends his relationship with Rachael, he begins to fall for Katherine. The problem is she can't date a patient. Oh, and he might be dead soon. The questions surrounding their relationship and his mortality will all be answered by the end of the closing credits in a very satisfying way that is a testament to the emotional script by Reiser.