The complexities and challenges of 21st century life for young people provide ample material for filmmakers. When these storylines are coupled with serious medical conditions, extraordinarily dramatic films can result. An embedded risk stems from the emotional range of life and death situations; too much attention to these moments can result in mere tear-jerkers. Yesterday, this column reviewed “The Fault in Our Stars,” a new film about young people with cancer that, on the one hand, triggered tears in many audience members, but on the other, stimulated other responses, including laughter. Another movie that moves beyond tear-jerker status is 2011’s “50/50,” a film about another young person with cancer.
“50/50” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, who is in his late-twenties and seems to have everything going for him. He works for a radio network with his friend Kyle (played by Seth Rogen), and he has an attractive artist girlfriend, Rachael (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). After an eruption of debilitating pain, he gets diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer and learns he has a 50% chance of survival. His comfortable world is completely disrupted by this devastating news. Rachael, in particular, proves ill-equipped to help him, and the reactions of Kyle and his parents also leave much to be desired. His overly protective mother, Diane (played by Anjelica Houston), is already stretched by the demands of his father’s illness, but she is eager to manage all aspects of Adam’s life. Having to cope both with the disease itself and the reactions of those close to him, Adam starts sessions with a student therapist, Katherine (played by Anna Kendrick). He also befriends two older men with cancer while in chemotherapy. Under their tutelage, he explores the pleasures of medical marijuana.
Like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “50/50” has several depressing scenes where characters deal with cancer, but it is also quite funny. Most of the humor comes from Kyle, Adam’s stoner friend who sometimes tries to use Adam’s condition as a way to convince women to sleep with them.
“50/50” has a great cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is spot-on as Adam, who is very scared of what may happen to him. Bryce Dallas Howard is also strong as Rachael. Although she cheats on him, we still almost feel sorry for her. Anna Kendrick is great as Katherine, who slowly falls for Adam.
“50/50” is a strong choice for fans of comedy-dramas.