Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in 50/50, a well-paced film that manages the nigh-impossible – the blending of cancer and comedy into a realistic portrait of a man’s reaction to, and struggle against, the life-threatening disease.
Cancer doesn’t exactly spring to mind when thinking about classic movie comedies. Cinematic history proves that romance sells well in a comedic format, life-threatening diseases rather less so. It’s surprising to find then that comedy lends itself rather simply here in 50/50.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears as Adam, a twenty-something who develops a cancerous growth on his spine. The film blends a topic often given a wide-berth by cinema with heart-felt reality as well as moments of well-timed comedy. Seth Rogen stars as Adam’s stoner best friend Kyle who’s the source of much of the film’s humour.
Although cancer is no laughing matter, the subject is dealt with with compassion and humanity – the film reminding audiences that cancer sufferers are still human; they laugh, they love and they lose. Adam’s idyllic relationship with girlfriend Rachael falls apart whilst he’s confronted with the reality of his situation by the men he befriends at chemotherapy. Although being the basis of much of the film, cancer is not the only thing the film explores. The illness gives Adam a boost to assess his life and evaluate his priorities.
Support is stellar here, with Angelica Houston appearing as Adam’s over-bearing but loving mother and Anna Kendrick starring as Katherine, a young trainee therapist who learns as much from Adam as he does from her. The comedy is well-paced (a particular highlight coming when Kyle is faced with the task of shaving Adam’s head) and knows when to give way to more sobering moments. The cast are not inviting us to laugh at cancer, they are encouraging us to embrace it and understand it.
At first you’re unsure whether you should be laughing at the plight of a young man stricken with such a debilitating illness, but the film is warm and light despite its subject matter. Heartbreaking moments appear alongside some genuinely funny scenes in a film that ultimately explores how people come together for the ones they love.
Best performance: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Best line: ‘If you were a casino game you’d have the best odds’.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt really did shave his head for the role. He and Rogen improvised the non-scripted scene we see in the movie.