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Screen » Film

Cancer and Comedy: 50/50 proves the two can coincide, at least on film

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As someone in her mid-twenties, I, fortunately, haven't had to deal with one of my best friends being diagnosed with cancer, though I do have a friend who has. It's one of those things you never want to think about, but something we'll all have to deal with eventually. It seems there are few, if any, films for someone in such a situation to relate to. Until now, that is.

I recently read an interview with Seth Rogen and 50/50 writer Will Reiser, whose own battle with cancer became the basis for 50/50. The two admitted writing the movie because when they found out about Reiser's illness they had no movie to reference. If you scan through the Netflix library, you're bound to find films about mothers and fathers, children, grandparents, the very young, the very old and their families dealing with cancer. Reiser's film tackles the concept of how people in their mid-twenties tackle a crisis through a buddy-comedy approach, which may seem like an unconventional way to approach the topic, but it works well.

In the film, 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a producer at NPR in Seattle. He eats healthy, exercises, doesn't smoke, avoids alcohol and after suffering from back pain he discovers he has a rare form of spinal cancer. Adam's best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), probably takes the news the worst, with the exception of his constantly worrying mother (Anjelica Huston). Adam's doctor refers him to a therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), who works at the hospital. She's a tad bit inexperienced, as she's working on her doctorate and Adam is just her third patient.

In creating a comedy with this sort of subject matter, the filmmakers had to walk a fine line given the pressures of sensitivity. With Rogen's reputation and choices in films, the movie could have gone horribly awry. Luckily, with his personal investment in the reality of what happened, viewers can rest assured that the cinematic adaptation comes across as both hilarious and heartfelt.

One way in which the film succeeds comes from the storyline not concentrating solely on the relationship between Adam and Kyle, which they easily could have done. Rather, the film does its best to tell Adam's story, from his undergoing chemotherapy with a couple of light-hearted old guys, to his nausea, to his neurotic mother. 50/50 follows Adam through the various stages of grief and both the ups and downs that come along with illness. Gordon-Levitt, as would be expected, does a phenomenal job in this role.

Gordon-Levitt, however, doesn't provide the only stellar performance, as 50/50 has an incredible cast, each actor pulling his or her own weight just as you would expect. As Adam's inexperienced therapist, Kendrick brings intelligence, vulnerability and humor sparked by the emotionality of the entire situation. Following up her critically acclaimed role in Up in the Air with this excellent performance in 50/50 shows Kendrick has a keen eye for the right roles.

50/50's weakness comes in the stereotypical characters of Adam's worrisome mother and his awful girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas-Howard). While both actresses give great performances, the characters are the problem. Right away we know how each character's role will play out. Despite getting Adam a dog and staying by his side each night, you know when Rachael wants to keep the hospital and their home life separate that there's something seriously wrong with this girl. Adam's oncologist (Andrew Airlie) may be the worst of the worst though, as this unbelievably insensitive doctor should never be allowed to deliver a diagnosis to anyone, ever.

As the clichéd idiom goes, laughter is the best medicine. When it comes to the comedy in 50/50 they don't try to push the humor on you in an unbelievable and incredibly clichéd manner. The comedy paired with the emotional, and mostly realistic, circumstances make us realize that sometimes it is OK to laugh about cancer.

50/50

4 Stars

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anna Kendrick.

Directed by Jonathan Levine.

Rated R

About The Author

Anne Pick

Music Writer | The Source Weekly

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