Film Review - '50/50'

Posted by Tony Kirwood

Boy gets cancer in director Jonathon Levene's latest offering. But does hilarity ensue?

Hair today, gone tomorrow?We first meet Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) jogging through the traffic. The light says “Stop”. He waits by the kerbside even as other joggers push past, being the sort who plays by the rules.

But soon all those certainties go up in smoke when he is diagnosed with virulent spinal cancer. Adam now begins to see the others in his life for who they really are.

His commitment-phobic artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas-Howard) won’t go into the clinic with him. (But does buy Adam a greyhound.) Sex-obsessed oaf and best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen, naturally) uses Adam's cancer primarily as a chat-up line. Hysterical mother (Angelica Houston) blames him for not telling her earlier. Even his gauche new therapist Katherine is just a trainee, and she’s younger than him too.

50/50 refers to Adam's adjusted life expectancy. Looking for support, he realises that everyone close to him is mainly concerned about themselves. He’s got to fend for himself. But director Jonathan Levene’s deft touch makes Adam’s journey through his new world of cancer funnier than a tickle with a stethoscope.

In one of the best scenes, Adam borrows Kyle’s electric razor to shave his head. Kyle’s blend of guffaws and squeamishness renders him incapable of the job which Adam, as with everything else in his struggle, has to do himself. Then Kyle tells him on what body part he’d been using the razor.

A British movie would have put the gag at the start of the scene and hammed up the excruciation. Levene throws it away as an afterthought. Who says American comedy is heavy-handed?

Anna Kendrick is sweet and droll as the one-chapter-short-of-a-textbook Katherine. As she parrots clichės from the counselling manuals her head bobs nervously up and down. She doesn’t even believe all this guff herself. She flicks her eyes away every time she catches Adam’s. She’s clearly falling in love.

The only false note is Kyle, who is so loutishly selfish that you wonder why Adam doesn’t focus more on throwing him out than he does Rachael. How did these two utterly different men become friends.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt meanwhile looks too much like an earnest sophomore to be a leading action man, but he has a real future in social comedies. His performance grows on you. He switches himself off and gazes into the blue. It’s all the future may hold.

The biggest cheer must go to Will Reiser, who wrote the screenplay after his own experience with cancer. The adage of “Write what you know” has certainly worked here. He keeps the tone light, even as cancer tightens its grip on Adam. It's funny and believable in equal measure.

“50/50” isn’t the sort of film that sweeps the Oscars. But it is one you’ll remember with real warmth. It won’t change the way you see things, but it’ll make you understand how Cancer does.

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