50/50: It Takes a Pair to Beat the Odds (2011)

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Biography, Comedy, Drama

An average guy who writes for radio programs, Adam begins to experience some pain in his back. After getting checked out by a doctor, he learns that he has Schwannoma neurofibrosarcoma, an extremely rare and aggressive form of spinal cancer. While initially depressed and avoidant of the diagnosis, he begins to tell his friends and family about his plight and begin to seek treatment. Though he gives his girlfriend, Rachael, an out of their relationship, she decides to stay with him and take care of him. His best friend, Kyle, seems to see the diagnosis as an opportunity to get pity sex from women who are sympathetic to his plight. His mother’s worrying continues to create a rift between the pair, though she continues to struggle with the Alzheimer’s of Adam’s father. Trying to support him through the treatment are a couple of other cancer patients and a young psychologist, Katherine, who has only worked with two other patients and is continuing to hone her skills.

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Adam), Seth Rogen (Kyle), Anna Kendrick (Katherine), Bryce Dallas Howard (Rachael), Anjelica Huston (Diane), Serge Houde (Richard), Andrew Airlie (Dr. Ross), Matt Frewer (Mitch), Philip Baker Hall (Alan)

To present a movie about cancer in a somewhat comical way is no easy task. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does not necessarily highlight the comedic side of the film, but, as the main character, he portrays both the concepts of the stages of grief and the complications with illness in a rather phenomenal and realistic way. Though he has a few moments of levity, most of his scenes deal with elements of fighting and accepting his fate. As the best friend, Seth Rogen is the main source of comedy. While his scenes are dominated by what seems to be negligence for his friend’s condition, Rogen has one of his most meaningful performances to date. Anna Kendrick’s role as the psychologist is fairly timid at first but she has a playfulness that plays better to the romance side of the film more so than the realism of a mental health professional. Bryce Dallas Howard seems innocent enough in the beginning but becomes a bit more complex throughout the film. As the grieving mother, Anjelica Huston plays her role with a great overbearing and fretful nature.

Taking inspiration from a true story, Jonathan Levine attempts to bring a realism to the story of a young man with cancer. Adam’s life is turned upside with a single moment with his doctor, who very nonchalantly tells him his diagnosis. While he is able to tell Rachael and Kyle soon after he learns about the cancer, he struggles to tell his mother, for fear that she will smother him. When he does, her first concern becomes why he waited so long to tell her and then she becomes flustered by the poor news. The process of telling loved ones may be done fairly quickly in the context of portraying it on screen, but the challenge of opening up and the reactions are fairly well portrayed. Adam must then go through a number of experiences that continue to alter his perception of his situation. Though he has a good friend who stays by his side, he learns about Rachael’s lack of commitment and struggles to accept the help of his mother. An illness of this type can take an unpredictable toll on loved ones, either pushing them away or pulling them closer.

The realism is actually something that is fairly heralded about this film. In multiple interviews with cancer patients and survivors, they discussed how true to life Gordon-Levitt played his character. While many other films play out the stages of grief in their specific progression, Adam’s struggles are mixed in with periods of acceptance. While going through chemotherapy, he makes friends with the other patients and still pushes toward having a fairly normal life. Even during therapy with Katherine, he maintains a sense of himself. When the cancer becomes too aggressive and he has to have surgery, his world gets turned upside down. He finally is able to understand the plight of his mother and recognize how invested Kyle has been all along. In the moments before getting taken back for the surgery, several of the interviewees identified with the moment of weakness. Adam breaks down and simply wants to stay in the safety of his mother’s love.

Though the comedic side of developing a cancer movie may have been criticized, it is well integrated into a story that gives a natural look at how cancer can alter a person’s life and those close him.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

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