Cancer sucks. That’s a given.
A fair share of movies about people dying of cancer — or anything else for that matter — usually suck, too. Not so with 50/50. Here a topic that is sometimes morbid and humorless moves mortality into a bit different realm.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Adam, a prime of his life 27-year old with a rare form of cancer. The career is going well. He’s just moved in with the woman he thinks is “the” one. Adam cannot imagine the diagnosis is correct. This can’t possibly be real.
But the cancer is relentless. His odds of beating the cancer are not good. They really never say even though the title is 50/50. Doctors always shrug when you ask questions about odds.
Levitt’s best pal is done by Seth Rogen. He’s a goofy but protective cretin who ends up using his friend’s deadly disease as a way to pick up women. The girlfriend announces she’ll take good care of him much to his mom’s chagrin.
Then there’s mom and the reason she’s not a good fit. Mom is nursing his Alzheimer’s victim dad and is kind of a head case anyway. A rookie counselor tries to help, and a group of older men dying of the same disease provide some laughs and fill out the roster.
That’s the set up.
First-time major release director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) and first-time screenwriter Will Reiser accomplish the impossible. They seamlessly marry an often very funny buddy movie with a serious examination of this young man’s struggle.
Sometimes, it’s a little too funny and it is just a tad loose in places. Not a scathing criticism. Just an observation.
The writer and director follow the real-life situations we all face when life and death hang in the balance. There’s shock, denial, anger, bargaining and finally, grieving, then acceptance. The script delves into each and adds wonderful touches of humanity and humor to spice up the drama.
Just like real life.
Adam’s alliance with the older men facing death is touching. Also explored is the reality of the end of life. No matter how much support we have, when we face death, we all do it alone.
Levitt is an amazing and versatile young actor who serves not only as the main character but also as a fulcrum for a wonderful supporting cast to work around. Rogen is in his element doing comic relief. Bryce Dallas Howard has fallen into an interesting niche. Like her work in The Help and Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, she’s outstanding as the self-absorbed girlfriend.
Up in the Air’s Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick plays Adam’s beginner therapist. Anjelica Huston nails the worrisome, meddlesome mom.
50/50 keeps the highs high. That’s easy. The lows are where most dying-of-a-disease movies go to die. Keeping the lows high is much more tricky and 50/50 not only manages, but also does so in a way that makes it one of the year’s best films.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Rated R for language, mature themes. It opens Friday at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at the Grand Cinemas Walla Walla.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.