By Joshua knopp/managing editor
It turns out there is a way to make cancer funny.
50/50 starts with a doctor discovering a rare form of cancer in the lower back of Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The film explores Adam’s support system and emotional journey during chemotherapy. The cast includes a comically inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick), a sexually charged best friend (Seth Rogen) and a girlfriend who pretty obviously is cheating on him (Bryce Dallas Howard).
50/50 is a feel-good movie, something that has been produced constantly since movies became an entertainment industry. Despite overproduction, 50/50 is a well-polished, feel-good movie because of strong performances from the cast and a subtly riveting portrayal of the body horror involved in cancer.
All of this is at the writer’s feet. Will Reisner based the script, albeit loosely, on his own experience with cancer, essentially replacing himself with Gordon-Levitt onscreen. A friend of Rogen, Reisner clearly wrote the script with Rogen’s delivery style in mind and then asked his friend to help produce. While Rogen’s brand of humor isn’t for everyone, he takes full advantage of a tailor-made script and makes the thespians around him better. Gordon-Levitt, a wonderful actor in his own right, feeds off his co-star and is splendid as 50/50’s emotional center.
While delightful, the casting choices are odd for such a mainstream feel-good style movie. Rogen requires the right part to shine and often writes his own scripts. Gordon-Levitt said when he started his adult acting career that he wanted to “be in good movies,” and as a result has stuck largely to independent films during his career. Kendrick is also known for indie hits Up in the Air and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
50/50 is very polished for a feel-good movie, but when people within the movie industry use the word polish, it’s mostly in reference to a metaphorical turd. That’s not really what’s going on here as the polish comes from superior acting and writing and nothing underhanded, but feel-good movies are still incredibly common. Even good ones have to beat out siblings that have drilled themselves into a viewer’s heart.
50/50 has a lot going for it and deserves at least a viewing, but may not turn into the fan favorite its largely positive reception indicates. Beauty, here, is entirely in the eye of the beholder.