Brilliant ‘50/50’ beats the odds

Article Published: Oct. 20, 2011 | Modified: Oct. 20, 2011
Brilliant ‘50/50’ beats the odds

From left, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in ‘50/50.’

At first glance, “50/50” seems the type of film many viewers might avoid.

A dramedy about an everyman’s battle with cancer doesn’t quite offer that cinematic escapism most people desire.

But after watching this wonderfully clever film that deftly blends poignancy, tragedy and hilarity, most will be glad they did.

Written by Will Reiser and based on his personal experience, “50/50” is a rare film. It tackles an uncomfortable, delicate subject with appropriately uncomfortable humor and an exceptional amount of heart.

A top-notch cast, including a standout performance from the always reliable Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“500 Days of Summer”), only helps, making “50/50” a refreshingly character-driven film that actually invests viewers in its human story.

Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 27-year-old radio writer who learns he’s contracted a rare type of cancer with a 50/50 survival rate.

Shocked, numbed and confused about this diagnosis, he confides in his crass best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen, “Funny People”), icy girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Help”) and overbearing mother Diane (Anjelica Huston, “The Royal Tenenbaums”), each of whom reacts in their own different way.

In addition to enduring chemotherapy, Adam must endure his friends’ and family’s best intentions – Kyle’s hilarious attempts to keep on the sunny side, Rachael’s superficial obligation to stand by his side, and his mother’s heartfelt attempts at coping.

Meanwhile, he’s seeking therapy from green grad student counselor Katherine (Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”), who reluctantly admits Adam is only her third patient, while also finding camaraderie among fellow chemo patients Alan (Phillip Baker Hall, HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Mitch (Matt Frewer, “Watchmen”).

Throughout it all, Adam remains remarkably calm and restrained, but it’s obvious that something’s seething within, and thanks to Gordon-Levitt’s solid performance, watching his journey is an emotional rollercoaster akin to his character’s own feelings.

Rogen brings a welcome balance to the pathos, with Kyle using humor – and Adam’s cancer to help them both score – to mask his own struggle with the situation. When Adam discovers Kyle’s pure-hearted intentions, it’s nothing short of touching.

Kendrick is charming as Katherine, who exudes a porous sense of confidence to cover her obvious inexperience, while Huston (as always) owns her role.

Like his characters, director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) has a lot to juggle. Fortunately, he never drops the ball, making a film that would otherwise seem outright depressing one of the most uplifting and heartwarming of the year.

“50/50,” rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 15-B or visit

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