Movie Review

REVIEW: '50/50' Tackles Cancer With Laughter, Dynamic Performances

Director of the new film "50/50" Jonathan Levine on tackling the topic of cancer.


If there’s any cancer movie that can put a smile on your face, it’s “50/50.” 

But while most films dealing with the tender subject seem to focus on older audiences, this one slyly plays off the notion that most young adults think they are impervious to all of life’s cruel twists and turns. “50/50” gives a younger generation a sucker-punch of bittersweet humor to tell an uplifting, but ultimately frightening story.

Directed by Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) and based on a true story, “50/50” follows 27-year-old Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose perfectly normal and successful life crumbles to chaos when he finds out he has a unique form of spinal cancer.

Screenwriter Will Reiser focuses on the emotional effects of having cancer and how it affects all surrounding relationships from family to work to sex, splitting the film down the middle as half tear-jerker and half side-splitting comedy.

 Providing both pain and comfort for Adam are his uncompassionate girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), who provides just as much heartache for him as his disease. Funny man Seth Rogen plays Adam’s larger-than-life pal who uses Lerner’s situation to hook up with single women and gets the two into some off-kilter situations. Rogen’s comic relief is hilarious, albeit occasionally excessive, and wonderfully counters the severity of Adam’s dilemma

The scenes between Adam and his mother (Angelica Huston) are particularly moving. The mother-son relationship is rocky at best and the tug-of-war between the characters brings out some of the best acting moments in the film.

Rounding out the film is Anna Kendrick’s sweet performance as Adam’s newbie therapist, whose inexperience helps the two face cancer together with fresh, young eyes.

The film never veers hard to either side of comedy or drama, maintaining a delicate balance between the two. Whenever the film feels like it may enter ‘after-school-special’ territory, it course corrects with some vulgar humor, usually at Rogen’s expense. Gordon-Levitt’s nuanced performance, especially, keeps the film grounded and realistic. The “3rd Rock From the Sun” star has come a long way and may see gold come awards season.

“50/50” certainly plays to Seth Rogen’s typical audience and the profanity may not be for everyone, but peppered among the scenes of crude dialogue and pot smoking is an inspirational and uplifting drama of a young man’s journey to embrace all that life, good or bad, throws his way.

3 out of 5 stars