Review: 50/50

A friend once humorously observed that of course he cried at a movie about cancer: “Because cancer is sad!” I remembered this after 50/50, a cancer weepie that had given my rarely used tear ducts a workout. Thankfully, Jonathan Levine’s (The Wackness) film earns its emotional outpouring by making its characters endearing and their plight entrancing. It’s a film of vivid textures, the prickly edges of cancer are blended with the slippery slope of young male friendship and the sweetness that’s born out of the actors’ spot on chemistry.

Based on the life story of debut screenwriter Will Reiser, 50/50 sees 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Inception) diagnosed with cancer. As big of a deal as this is to the unassuming radio producer, it is the people surrounding him that make a drama to his life: best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen, Green Hornet) thinks cancer will be a chick magnet; girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help) is struggling to cope; student therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick, Twilight) has him in a tailspin; and his mother (Anjelica Huston, Smash) immediately responds “I’m moving in” to his dinnertime announcement. That the calmest people in Adam’s life are the two other cancer patients he shares chemotherapy with (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) just adds to the charm and the spirit of this wonderful movie.

There’s a genuine authenticity to 50/50 that allows each actor to play to their strengths–Gordon-Levitt’s sensitivity, Rogen’s pot-head antics, Huston’s iciness, Kendrick’s awkward cuteness – without ever feeling rote; they all step up their efforts. Rogen, especially, works wonders as his real life friendship with Reiser and job as co-producer have allowed him to explore extra dimensions to his usual shtick.

Katherine (Anna Kendrick) and Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Exquisitely handled by Levine and Reiser that delicately balances the gloomy drama and the thorny comedy with poignant precision. It’s a film about cancer, but it never succumbs to the morose trappings of its cinematic cousins. It’s this lightness that allows the characters to emerge more as real personas rather than proxy characters for big scenes of gushing emotion. When the film allows itself to be overcome by the weight of its subject, it’s done with such a subtle grace that it’s easy to forget your heart is being tugged at by filmmakers.

Seth Rogen, as Kyle, stars and co-produces 50/50

Perhaps saddest of all is that the only place in all of Australia where audiences will be able to see this multi-award winning film starring some of the biggest names in the business on the big screen is at Cinema Nova in Melbourne. Hard to believe that 50/50 is all but going direct-to-DVD, but if anybody in Melbourne is given the opportunity to see it I really hope they do. It’s a deeply memorable, keenly observed film that will surely remain of my favourite films of 2012.

50/50 opens exclusive to the Cinema Nova on March 8th

Director: Jonathan Levine

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston,

Serge Houde, Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall