Dark cancer comedy “50/50” balances funny and dramatic elements effectively
Here are two words that probably shouldn’t go in the same sentence: cancer and comedy. However, those are the two best words to sum up the new film by Jonathan Levine, “50/50,” starring Joseph Gordon- Levitt as Adam, a man diagnosed with cancer at just 27. Instead of taking the typical dramatic route, screenwriter Will Reiser (who drew from his real life experience with the disease) took a less cliché Hollywood approach by infusing comedy into the situation. This created something in between a hard R comedy and a tense drama.
Cancer is always a touchy subject. Although making jokes about using the disease to get laid isn’t exactly the most tasteful way to portray it, the humor helps you identify with Adam and to empathize with him.
The odd thing about the film is that throughout it, the one who is the
least worked up is Adam himself. The sense of panic instead comes from the people around him, such as his girl- friend (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is somewhat clueless as what to do, and his mother (Anjelica Huston), whose alarm turns to confusion and to near hysteria within the first few minutes of Adam telling her. “I’m moving in” is one if the first things she responds with, questioning who will take care of him, switching into overprotective mother-mode, even trying to make him some tea, “to prevent cancer.” To which Adam responds, “Well, I already have cancer.”
It’s moments like that which sum up his new motto, as his therapist puts it: “You can’t do anything to change your situation, all you can change is how you choose to deal with it.”
Although Gordon-Levitt is quite good in the lead role, the standouts in the film really seem to be the supporting actors, from Seth Rogen infusing his comedic knack, to the very talented Anna Kendrick playing Adam’s inexperienced therapist assigned by the hospital. Kendrick brings a great charisma to a somewhat trite and overdone character, the shy, doing her best to be professional, coworker of sorts. Without Kendrick the character likely wouldn’t have worked as well.
The underrated Philip Baker Hall shows up as well, as another chemotherapy patient, however he mysteriously vanishes a ways into the film, and we are never given any real clo- sure with him or hint at how his treatment went.
Even with small flaws like that, “50/50” really is enjoyable, and has a great heart amongst the laughs. It has something for everyone; the people who want to crack up will, while the ones who want to bawl their eyes out can easily as the film progresses.