Director : Jonathan Levine
Screenplay : Will Reiser
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Adam), Seth Rogen (Kyle), Anna Kendrick (Katherine), Bryce Dallas Howard (Rachael), Anjelica Huston (Diane), Serge Houde (Richard), Andrew Airlie (Dr. Ross), Matt Frewer (Mitch), Philip Baker Hall (Alan), Donna Yamamoto (Dr. Walderson), Sugar Lyn Beard (Susan), Yee Jee Tso (Dr. Lee), Sarah Smyth (Jenny), Peter Kelamis (Phil)
50/50, a dramedy about a young man in his late 20s who is diagnosed with cancer, is a good movie with a moderate sense of daring that ultimately spends too much time telling the wrong story. Screenwriter Will Reiser based on the script on his own twentysomething experiences of battling cancer, and he wrote it at the behest of his friend Seth Rogen, who plays a character in the movie similar to his role in real life--that is, a vulgar but likeable cad who has no idea how to actually support a friend who may be dying of cancer (which seems to confirm that the Rogen screen persona is not too far removed from Rogen’s real-life persona). And if 50/50 had focused more on that dynamic, it would have been a better, more cohesive movie. Instead, Reiser chose to create a conventional and strained romantic storyline that never really works.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Reiser’s on-screen surrogate, an otherwise normal, unremarkable 27-year-old named Adam, who is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that has led to a large tumor on his spine that must be treated with chemotherapy and possibly spinal surgery. His chances of survival are roughly 50% (hence the film’s title), which throws his otherwise routine life for a major loop. It is doubly difficult for Adam to deal with this unexpected diagnosis because he doesn’t have much of a support system around him. He has his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), who is well-meaning and involved, but is also a crass, single male whose primarily goals in life revolve around drinking and womanizing, two activities that don’t suit Adam in general, but even less so once he is sick and weak from the chemo. Adam has a girlfriend, a modern artist named Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), but their relationship is in the early stages, and even if she were a more involved, caring person (which she is not), asking her to essentially care for him during his treatment might be more than the relationship could stand. Adam’s mother (Anjelica Huston), on the other hand, is overprotective and smothering to the point that he avoids virtually all contact with her.
These intertwining dynamics make for both intriguing drama and sometimes darkly hilarious comedy, but 50/50 begins to steer away from the complicated and instead focus on the growing relationship between Adam and Katherine (Anna Kendrick), the psychology intern at the hospital assigned to his mental health while he goes through chemo. Adam is initially reluctant to talk with Katherine, partially because she is young, inexperienced, and, frankly, a terrible therapist, but her genuine disposition and true sense of caring eventually wear down his barriers. Unfortunately, the romantic side of 50/50 is its weakest link, not only because Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick have little or no on-screen chemistry, but also because it detracts from the more interesting interpersonal issues with the other characters (it also doesn’t help that Katherine breaks virtually every ethical code in the client-therapist relationship).
Even if the budding romance worked, it is too safe and tired a device for a film that wants to push at taboos (both seriously and humorously) surrounding disease, death, and various assumptions about their connections to age and youth. There are scenes throughout the film that work marvelously, particularly the ones in which Adam goes to chemo with Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer), two old codgers who introduce themselves by name and stage of their cancer. But, whenever it returns to the relationship between Adam and Katherine, the film starts feeling creaky and manufactured; even Anna Kendrick’s undeniable sweetness feels stale. It is clear that director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) is trying to create a sense of awkward realism in their interactions, but it never clicks, which just makes us anxious for the film to divert its attention back to Adam’s largely repressed anxiety and Kyle’s poignantly doofus attempts to raise his spirits.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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