The term ‘Black comedy’ probably won’t find a greater fit than this; a comedy about cancer. However, the cast and screenwriter Will Reiser – who injects his own personal experience with the disease into the film – manage to make the film funny, insightful as well as touching, without ever stepping into disrespectful territory.
The numerical title reflects the odds given to Adam (Joseph Gordon Levitt) when he finds out he has cancer. The film rightfully looks at not just how Adam copes with this but how those closest to him, his mother, girlfriend and best friend handle it as well. 50/50 excels in its portrayal of the many side effects that come from not just the cancer itself, but also the treatment for it. Aspects such as the sick-inducing chemotherapy and sexual problems are areas that most films overlook so it adds a level of authenticity to the film.
Director Jonathon Levine expertly blends together a Judd Apatow style comedy with a more serious subject matter without ever descending into sentimentality, something which many of his Hollywood contemporaries would have done. In a funny yet particularly uncomfortable scene Adam, intoxicated on medicinal marijuana, walks through a hospital finding himself laughing at all the pain and suffering that he sees like a family crying or a body bag being wheeled away. It’s scenes like this where the filmmakers deserve to be commended for not shying away from the sadness or pain that any loss can cause without sugar-coating it, yet still remaining funny.
The cast is generally very good although the roles themselves are a bit erratic in quality. Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Anna Kendrick are lumbered with fairly predictable subplots to work with which hinder our interest in them, whilst Anjelica Huston is uniformly excellent as Adam’s paranoid and worrying mother. Huston steals every scene she’s in, imbuing both humour and yet also deep emotion into her character and it’s a shame that she isn’t featured more.
However, this is all about the central duo of Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen. The former is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most reliable leading actors and turns in another great performance whilst Rogen, although not straying too far away from his comfort zone (the weed-smoking, hitting on chicks and crazy shenanigans are all here), displays a more sensitive side and re-enacts the more supportive role he actually played in real life to friend Reiser. This central relationship is very much the heart of the film and ensures that you’ll be rooting for the happy ending come the film’s close. 50/50 proves that with the right cast and crew, even the most serious of subject matters can be made both comic and touching.
50/50 (2011), directed by Jonathon Levine, is distributed on DVD and Blu-ray from Lionsgate, Certificate 15.