Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The thing with disease themed movies is that one can expect high drama fragmented with tear-jerking moments. Peppered with a sense of hope (or demise) through characters that are as predictable as they are stereotypical, these supposedly inspiring stories can fall flat or come off as horridly cliché. But director Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 come from a sense of reality, a reality that in these situations, no one, not even the therapist, really knows how to handle the emotions that come with the pain.
It is one thing that the film is based (though loosely) on the real-life experience of screenwriter Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with spinal cancer in his early 20s, and another thing that both he and Seth Rogen were writing for HBO’s Da Ali G Show. In 50/50, Reiser wrote the screenplay and Rogen produced (with Evan Goldberg) and co-stars in the film, making the film authentically hilarious and genuinely endearing.
Adam (indie heartthrob Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a producer for Seattle Public Radio and found out that he has cancer with a 50/50 chance of survival. He confides in his buddy Kyle (Rogen), who tries his darndest to be the best confidant ever by giving the worst advices.
"50/50," he sighs, feigning relief, "If you were a casino game, you'd have the best odds," says Kyle.
The relationship between Adam and Kyle is mesmerizing as it is heartfelt. On one corner, Adam is the kind of guy who neither smoke nor drinks, waits patiently at ‘Don't Walk’ signs, and doesn't drive because auto accidents are the fifth-leading cause of death in the America. Kyle, on the other hand is loudmouth, often overbearing, and a sexist, slacker and pothead. But as opposites attract, Kyle chips away Adam’s delusional and socially pressured idea that “everything’s gonna be alright” through a level of honesty that’s both awkward and kind.
Through Adam’s journey with Kyle who rarely leaves his side (usually taking him out to the bar to pick up chicks), he begins to face his fears and eventually accept what he has to deal with.
Just like Kyle, the characters that surround Adam are all ill-equipped with handling the situation. Adam’s artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) threads between acting like nothing has happened and talking in abstract artistic statements while his hysterical mother (Anjelica Huston) may come off as a narcissist but offer a sense of clarity through her wisdom. Even his therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick) doesn’t really know what to do. With Adam as her third patient, she tries clumsily at not sounding too scripted while trying to be his friend.
Taking its cue from Adam’s relationship with Katherine, who later starts having feelings him and breaks her own mould, the film really revolves around how much more human we can be through the power of friendship and love.
Carefully balancing between being too insensitively humorous and too forcefully tragic, 50/50 pulls back on each department making sure one complements the other. Without losing sight of the pain and the probability of death, the film’s perfectly timed laughs and level of empathy, coupled with some of the best acting both Gordon-Levitt and Rogen have ever done, this film stands a 90 per cent chance of being nominated for an Oscar.