- Running time:
- 99 minutes
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt -
- Seth Rogen -
- Anna Kendrick -
- Bryce Dallas Howard -
- Philip Baker Hall -
Life is good for 27-year-old Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)—he has a cool job at a Seattle NPR station, a beautiful artist girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a comically randy best friend (Seth Rogen). He could be the main character in a cheerful sit-com, until his doctor discovers a tumor on Adam’s spine and delivers the news no one wants to hear: Adam has cancer. While his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston) tries to help, Adam also begins meeting with a young therapist (Anna Kendrick) to talk through the stress.
The buzz: Screenwriter Will Reiser was inspired by his own experiences as a twentysomething cancer survivor, and wrote the movie at the urging of his friends and former “Da Ali G Show” colleagues Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They saw the potential for something fresh in a realistically comedic look at a young man with cancer. Director Jonathan Levine chose the project as his follow-up to Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner “The Wackness.”
The verdict: Making a comedy about cancer sounds like a bad joke. But “50/50” shares an approach with the Showtime series “The Big C,” and deftly navigates dangerous territory by focusing on believable character-based humor over outrageously laugh-out-loud moments. It’s like a dialed-down Judd Apatow production, but not (whatever the marketing wants you to believe) a “Superbad”-style buddy comedy with cancer. This is Adam’s story all the way. Rogen’s sex-obsessed buddy is just one of four equally important and expertly acted supporting characters. Since Reiser’s overly tidy screenplay explores Adam’s life through his relationships, it’s fortunate to have Huston, Kendrick and Howard around to invest potentially schematic characters with genuine personalities and intriguing flaws. There’s just enough detail to keep the people and events credible and save the movie from dissolving into a smart-mouthed pile of mush. Instead, the cumulative emotional impact comes naturally, helped immensely by Gordon-Levitt’s likable low-key star turn. Adam begins the film as a doormat, until his diagnosis—and the resulting anxiety, loneliness and physical decline—forces him to take a deeper look at his life. The ever-nimble Gordon-Levitt sells both sides of the transformation with ease, he’s an ideal leading man for smart, sensitive dramedy. Given the contributions of the cast, it’s no surprise Levine’s smooth direction allows the actors to drive the story and find the hope and humor in life’s bad breaks.
Did you know? After original leading man James McAvoy dropped out, Gordon-Levitt joined the film just a week before production started.
Follow Metromix's Geoff Berkshire on Twitter: @geoffberkshire
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