What is so funny about cancer? It’s heart breaking, it takes lives and even the will to live from so many people. Can a comedic actor (Seth Rogen) who’s been in movies about being a 40-year-old virgin, a burn-out pot smoker and making a porno flick have any chance to tackle such a serious subject?
He does if he is paired with the right cast and writer. Luckily Rogen plays wonderfully off his co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has experience in dramatic roles such as “Inception” and “The Lookout.” And, he is backed a talented writer, Will Reiser, with “50/50” being his first major film screenplay.
We are introduced to our cancer patient Adam (played by Levitt), as young, pleasant man who runs, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and recycles. He has a good life with a pretty girlfriend, Rachael (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and has a good job. In public radio.
After experiencing back pain, he goes to the doctor. His doctor bluntly explains to him that he has a tumor on his back. Everything becomes a blur for Adam for the next 30 seconds; I’ve been told this is quite normal for people who hear this sort of news.
What does a 27-year-old do when he finds that he has a 50/50 chance of survival? First he breaks the news to his girlfriend who tells him she will support him. Next he breaks the news to his best friend, Kyle (played by Rogen), who tells him that he can beat this thing. Then it’s on to his over-protective mother, Diane (played by Angelica Huston) who only wants to smother with constant check-in phone calls.
To help adjust to his new disease, Adam attends therapy with a young doctor (actually, she is a soon-to-be doctor), Katie (played by Anna Kendrick). Here Adam slowly starts going through the five stages of grief (starting with denial and ending with acceptance).
With such serious subject matter the movie picks up in the humor department when veteran actor Phillip Baker Hall arrives as a fellow cancer patient. Hall provides plenty of comedic f-bombs to remind us that we can laugh at serious subject matter.
But what else would a 27-year-old do when he finds that he has a 50/50 chance of survival? He resorts to medicinal marijuana. And lots of it. He also focuses solely on himself and his problems like any young man would. As the audience, we move from empathizing with him because he is in a terrible situation to realizing that even though he has cancer, it doesn’t make him immune to being a jerk. He focuses so much of his time on what he is going through, he forgets about those around him are also afflicted by this disease.
Should you see this movie? Yes, with Rogen and Levitt it was a pleasure to see them work off each other like they were old high school buddies facing an adult situation together. Going from the “let’s get a six pack and chase women around” mentality to the “let’s act like adults and face this together” was great to see.
The stand out character would have to be Adam’s dad, Richard (played by Serge Houde). He didn’t say much because his character has Alzheimer’s. But it was a smart idea to place his character in this story to remind Adam and the audience that even though that he is going through tough times there are always people who have it just as bad, if not worse.