A Review of “50/50”

          “If you were a casino game, you would have the best odds.”  Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is just another unassuming – and rather boring – twenty-something year old.  He’s got a goofy best friend that he works with, a gorgeous artsy girlfriend who’s incredibly messy, and a mother that constantly worries about him.  His typical day involves waking up in a sexless bed and getting driven to work by said best friend, because Adam is afraid of driving and never got a license.  And at work, he does boring pieces for National Public Radio.

          But his mundane life comes to a standstill when he is diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his spine.  It’s cancer, and he has only a 50% chance of survival.  The gem of an opening line that I used comes from the unorthodox support given by Adam’s best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen).  Some of the promotional footage and posters for the film – which is based on a true story – seem to push the idea that “50/50” is some kind of bromantic story about a scruffy guy helping his friend through cancer, which is actually 100% true.  Seth Rogen, who plays Kyle, did help support his friend Will Reiser through a similar experience with cancer, which Reiser used as fuel to write “50/50”.

          Now, many people have been claiming that they are getting tired of Seth Rogen.  In a way, he really is something of a one-trick pony.  Superficially, it’s almost like the Seth Rogen from “40 Year Old Virgin” lost a bit of weight and flew out to the Seattle-based plot of “50/50” where he’s still just trying to get his friends laid.  But in “50/50” we see an echo of Seth Rogen’s younger, more immature self, just doing his best to help a dying friend.  In fact, after Reiser survived, Rogen was the one who urged Reiser to write the screenplay.  Not only that, but Seth Rogen is responsible for getting it produced.  He’s actually a wicked nice guy, right?  Ultimately, the Adam-Kyle friendship does take up a considerable amount of the plot – with their scenes trying to sexually exploit Adam’s predicament being some of the most comical – but the movie is hardly a simple bromance.  “50/50” hones in on Adam’s other relationships as well, but most astounding is his personal character development.  And what a transformation he has!

          At the start of the film Adam is a tightly wound neatfreak who gets outstripped while jogging by an Olympian bimbo who doesn’t stop for “No Walking” streetlights.  But Adam stops, because he follows the rules.  He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, he even recycles!  Yet somehow he gets cancer.  He picks up after his slob of a girlfriend (and even ‘gives her a personal drawer?’ dork) and grows flustered when Kyle asks personal questions about his sex life.

          But everything changes after the diagnosis.  In chemotherapy, he shares weed-filled macaroons with hysterical old men.  In therapy, he has a tense and tenderhearted flirtation with his therapist Katie, played by the indomitable and adorable Anna Kendrick.  He reconnects with a constantly ignored mother and even gets through to an Alzheimer’s riddled father, if ever so briefly.  Despite being OCD about his home, he actually keeps and adores the dog, pre-named Skeletor, which his girlfriend brings home.  And he stands up for himself when it’s long overdue.  By the end of it all, he’s not afraid to say to people, “Get the fuck off my porch.”  Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines with the myriad of emotions that cancer patients deal with: denial, grief, rage, acceptance, and despair.  And we love him for it by the end.

          The movie is full of believable, tenderhearted moments and realistic emotional meltdowns – but don’t think for a second that I’m talking just about Adam.  “50/50” works incredibly well because it’s not just about one man’s battle with cancer.  It’s about the struggles that the entire network of our friends and family go through together when devastation hits.  It shows us how we are all only as strong as the support that we get, even when it’s from an anorexic looking retired racing dog named Skeletor with a heart of gold.   Go see “50/50” because it’s earnest, hysterical, and heartfelt, and quite possibly one of the best films this year.

C P

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