At the very young age of just twenty-seven, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed with a rare but operable form of cancer, and this is the survival rate he finds himself facing, his life placed in the hands of cold, hard, unchangeable chance. Fifty per cent beat it, fifty per cent are beaten by it.
The film is all the more touching knowing that writer Will Reiser based 50/50 on the events of his own life, lending the entire script and its characters an authenticity and believability that too few films of a similar theme have. This in turn makes the film all the more original and powerful, even whilst full of great comedy á la Seth Rogen, who plays Adam’s best friend, Kyle, and whose part is not entirely fictional, being one of Reiser’s best friends in real life.
After discovering that his girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), is cheating on him, Adam begins to lean more on his best friend Kyle for support, who despite putting up a brave front and keeping everything entertaining is in fact taking the possibility of losing his friend very seriously. Though of course, Seth Rogen being Seth Rogen, he can keep things simultaneously hilarious, crude, and charming like no one else can, even when dealing with the most serious of issues.
The casting of Gordon-Levitt and Rogen as the two best friends is perfect, with the dramatic veneer of Gordon-Levitt bouncing perfectly off Rogen’s comedy to create by far one of the best films of the year, and definitely the best comedy of the year. Given the subject matter, it’s pleasantly surprising how much of the film is life-affirmingly feel-good. 50/50 is utterly brilliant in its infusion of humour in the face of such cold, harsh odds, reminding us of that well known adage, that laughter really is the best medicine, and director Jonathan Levine has done an excellent job in bringing such warmth and colour into the film to contrast and combat the coldness of Adam’s prognosis.
Along with the support he finds in Kyle, Adam eventually begins to let his mother (Anjelica Huston) into his life, and Huston is terrific as his emotionally-wrecked and -drained parent, dealing with the unenviable combination of a husband with Alzheimer’s and a 27-year-old son with cancer.
Further support comes from the wonderful Anna Kendrick, starring as Adam’s therapist, Katherine, who at twenty-four years old is three years her patient’s junior and a little out of her depth. As Adam drifts further away from Rachael, we realise how much of a better girlfriend Katherine would make, doctor-patient rules be damned, and the chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick comes across so genuinely. Kendrick gives a fantastic performance of someone learning how to deal with the same things her patient is going through, and 50/50 does an impressive job of showing how something as life-altering as cancer does affect all the people it surrounds.
And where would a film with Seth Rogen be without a little weed? During his chemotherapy, Adam is introduced to the benefits of medical marijuana to ease his pain by two much older fellow cancer sufferers (played by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer), and this new-found enjoyment is one Kyle is naturally happy to get on board with. It’s when we return to the hospital chemotherapy room, however, and find an empty chair in which once sat one of these two men that we and Adam are brought back to the harsh reality and the re-realisation that he might well not make it, that fate is cruel and is not stacked up in his favour.
The wildly under-rated Levine (whose last film, The Wackness, is also very much worth seeking out) has done a tremendous job in bringing out such exceptional performances from an absolutely stellar cast, and Gordon-Levitt and Rogen both give their best performances to date – a statement I don’t make lightly given their terrific respective credits.
50/50 is a film that rises up beyond the usual drama-comedy fare to something much, much finer. It’s very rare in films like this to get both such poignant moments of drama and such brilliant moments of comedy; one is usually much weaker than the other, but both are done incredibly well here, which is a real testament to the talents of everyone involved.
Reiser makes one of the finest feature debuts in recent years with this script, one that I would say is even better than Diablo Cody’s Academy Award-winning debut with Juno. And truly everyone is absolutely on top of their game from start to finish. There isn’t a single bad thing I could possibly say about this movie; ‘perfect’ doesn’t do it justice. I’ve been looking forward to this movie ever since I first heard about it, and it lives up to the expectation and then some. I can’t wait to see it again.
Thankfully, its UK release date has been brought forward by quite a bit and we won’t have to wait until early January to see it anymore, with it now arriving, if nothing else changes, on 25th November. It’s been praised by critics across the States, having been out there for two weeks now, and I fully expect it to be received brilliantly here in the UK too. This is a film that everyone will love, and it’s definitely a must-see when it hits the big screen next month. I walked out of the cinema instantly feeling the need to tell people how good it is; I loved every minute.
It may be wishful thinking and is of course still somewhat early days to be thinking about the Oscars, but given how well Juno was received three years ago, I would absolutely love to see 50/50 go to the Academy Awards next year. It is certainly Oscar-worthy material in my eyes, unparalleled in its genre, and it would truly be well deserved.