50/50: A Cure for the Common Comedy

By Charlotte Rosenfield '15, Design Editor

“Who wants to see a movie about a guy who has cancer?”

This seemed to be the consensus from the informal poll I conducted, attempting to recruit friends to accompany me to see the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt film 50/50. A second friend refused on the grounds of it sounding “too sad.” “I’ll probably cry,” she said.

“But it’s a comedy!” I pleaded. To no avail. By the time I returned home for fall break, I’d resigned myself to seeing the movie by myself. In retrospect, this decision was probably for the best. This complex, yet witty, film took me on an emotional roller coaster ride, and I’m glad no one was there to see it.

50/50 is based on writer Will Reiser’s real struggle with cancer. The story’s factual origins make the film feel real and grounded in experience. Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam, a young, healthy Seattleite with what appears to be a pretty ideal existence: a stimulating job; a serious girlfriend, Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a bachelor best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen). As the movie progresses, we discover that Adam is extremely insecure and scared of nearly everything. His insecurity limits and controls Adam’s life.

Early in the film, we learn that Adam doesn’t even have a driver’s license because driving is “the 5th leading cause of death.” When Adam is (spoiler!) diagnosed with cancer, such insecurities become poignant. The true natures and conditions of his core relationships begin to reveal themselves as those around them struggle to cope with his diagnosis.

The ways in which Adam connects to those around him, as well as how he forms new connections, are central to the movie. Director Jonathan Levine’s representation of Adam was driven by a focus on how relationships develop, for both the good and the bad, during hardship and struggle.

While the concept of 50/50 is tough for some to handle, it is not a tragedy by any stretch of the imagination.

Anna Kendrick, who plays Adam’s therapist Katherine, contributes to the comedic ethos of the film already brought out by the comedic stylings of Seth Rogen. Intelligent humor and profanity are sprinkled throughout the film (though maybe the latter is less “sprinkled” and more “dumped by the bucket load”). Adam forms new, worthwhile relationships while going through treatment that keep him grounded and personable.

In some of my favorite scenes, Adam joins two older gentlemen, Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer), for multiple rounds of chemotherapy, relationship advice and some “pot macaroons.” By getting to know these gentlemen on the verge of death, Adam is able to consider his own existence and learn to appreciate his worth as a person.

Drawing its emotional resonance from Reiser’s personal battle with cancer, 50/50’s story of Adam’s transformative—and often humorous—journey to health reminds us that friendship and support are the greatest healers.