Published Sep 15, 2011Treating cancer, so to speak, with a bit of cinematic levity isn't a novel notion (see Fubar). While 50/50 has more laughs than its predecessors, its big heart, stellar cast and nuanced script elevate it above the melanoma/buddy-comedy concept (is that a genre?).
At the ominous age of 27, radio documentary maker and all-around nice guy Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that gives him the titular 50-percent chance of survival. While he navigates the five stages of grief, his flighty girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), overprotective mother (Anjelica Houston) and best friend (Seth Rogen, who also produced) cope in wildly different ways.
Writer Will Reiser purportedly drew from personal experience and his script, with its emotional vacillations and wry humour, feels neither exploitive nor inauthentic. Furthermore, director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) takes an even-handed approach. Mostly, he uses his actors, a pretty, grey Seattle palette and a solid soundtrack to set the tone. Even when he puts his camera in motion, especially with a druggy hospital wander, he judiciously opts for a naturalistic look.
Much of the comedy comes from stoner tropes and cancer-related deadpanning, with Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer turning up as aged chemo-patient tokers. Of course, Rogen does the bulk of the bong lifting. Still, his spot-on performance consists of more than sleepy eyes and glazed quips.
The film features a number of subtly wrought love stories, each with its own idiosyncrasies, though none are more effective than the platonic one at its core. As lifelong pals, Gordon-Levitt and Rogen have a genuine, witty and, at times, poignant relationship.
Rogen is fantastic in what could be a mere comic relief role, moving between completely supportive and occasionally self-serving, all with a goofy grin and his The 40-Year-Old Virgin confidence. Perfectly cast, other solid work comes from an ambivalently villainous Bryce Dallas Howard, a quirky/cute Anna Kendrick and a neurotic Anjelica Houston.
In another fantastic starring performance (see Mysterious Skin, Brick, etc.), Gordon-Levitt arms his Adam with genial poise, making it all the more powerful when cancer strips it away. Better smiling and solemn than hapless, he gets progressively better as his disease gets worse (the toque and growing sweaters don't hurt).
Dealing with cancer is never going to be entirely hilarious (you know, because of the strong possibility of death), yet it isn't likely to be totally gloomy either. 5050 deftly walks the line between the two, offering a glut of laughter, moments of sorrow and a moving portrait of life, love and friendship. (eOne)