50/50 review

Story by Eric Christenson

You don’t need me to tell you that cancer isn’t funny.  You don’t need anyone to tell you that.

But I think that’s the mistake a lot of critic’s made in analyzing “50/50” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a public radio producer who finds out he has a rare, cancerous tumor on his spine.

The idea the movie is simply making light of the disease is easily inferred by the film’s trailer, but you’d be doing it the biggest injustice to call it just a comedy about cancer, because that’s not the whole movie by a long shot.

His confused artist girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) leaves him after she’s caught cheating on him and his mother (Anjelica Huston) is overbearing and worried to the point of nausea, so the only people Adam can actually connect with are his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), the two older men he’s doing chemo with and his unorganized and young, yet intuitive therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick).

Kyle is well-intentioned and loyal, which is at the heart of the story.  He tries to make Adam lighten up, which only works about 45 percent of the time.

This film would be a tricky one to make; it’s a touchy subject.  I can’t even try to guess how difficult it was to balance the life-altering gravity of fighting cancer against any sort of comedy, but here, the line is walked on with a tastefulness and rare wit.

As Claudia Puig put it in USA Today, “50/50 winningly demonstrates that profound emotion and wide-ranging humor can co-exist in the same movie — just as they do in real life.”

I think that’s an important trait of the movie.  Though it’s based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s real life experience with cancer, that sort of thing can often be hard to recreate for the big screen.  Things get over-dramatized and overly act-y — if you know what I mean —  but here, the details and the subtleties are what drive it into the stratosphere as one of the best films of the year.

Gordon-Levitt, as per usual, is excellent.  He plays the drama understated and he plays the comedy smartly.  Neither pulls away from the other, to maximum effect.  Both work extremely well in a film that isn’t gawky yet isn’t melodramatic.

And that’s due to the script.  It’s clever and witty, but also gripping and real.  The emotion is there, but doesn’t rely on clichés, like so many movies based around family tragedy do.  No one takes tremendously long, aggravating pauses between the things they say, and it’s good this movie realized it.  I always find the emotion in a film is much more affecting when the reality of the script has you already drawn in.

So “50/50” isn’t just Adam’s chance of survival, it’s a ratio of perfect balance; it’s something this movie is incredible at making you feel while you laugh with tears in your eyes.