50/50 is an emotional and occassionally funny story that examines a young man coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis. This is a tale everyone can relate to on some level, as I doubt there are not many people who have not been affected by this disease in some meaningful way. The story introduces us to Adam, a bright and driven employee of NPR in Seattle, who, early in the film is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer with a frightening 50% survival rate. We watch as Adam endures emotionally confusing times and shows difficulty accepting his disease, after all, how could this happen to someone like him “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink…I recycle!” he exclaims dismayed. The story is based on the experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, who was encouraged by his friend, Seth Rogan, to write the script after enduring cancer in his early 20’s. Seth Rogan, who co-stars in the film, essentially plays himself (he helped support Reiser through his illness), and is at the top of his game as Kyle, Adam’s supportive yet exasperating best friend. Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in yet another great performance as Adam, bringing emotional clarity to the role. It’s honestly impossible for me not to fall in love with Gordon-Levitt in each of his films, and his performance sweeps me off my feet again. We also see strong supporting roles turned in by Angelica Huston, who plays Adam’s over-protective, yet emotionally tough mother, and Anna Kendrick, as Adam’s therapist.
Reiser’s screenplay is excellent for the majority of the film, and walks the fine line between hope and despair. While we see Adam going through difficult moments, the film never digs too deep into the physical horrors of the disease and treatment. Instead it focuses on Adam’s mental state and his relationships with his friends and family. Although there are many engaging personal confrontations in the film, Adam’s interactions with his less than loyal girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) feel a little too rushed. The issues involved on each side for this couple are undoubtedly complex and I felt as though their scenes were brushed aside. While the audience sides with Adam, we lose much of Rachel’s perspective, although there is a fleeting attempt to convey it. While not defending her characters actions, it would have served the story well to gain a perspective on the stress debilitating sicknesses can have not only on those diagnosed, but others in their supportive network.
Despite a few drawbacks, this is an excellent film, with very strong performances and superb writing. I highly recommend 🙂