- Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in the mix of buddy comedy and harrowing cancer drama. Submitted photo.
3.5 stars (out of
In 2005, writer Will Reiser learned he had cancer. His close friend Seth Rogen had no idea how to deal with the situation, other than to hang in there with his pal. Eventually, they decided that the experience would make a good movie. All of which brings us to 50/50, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Adam, a 27-year-old NPR staff person, and Rogen playing Kyle, his best buddy.
50/50 mixes a rude buddy comedy with a harrowing cancer drama. It has heart, but steers away from sentiment. Reiser's screenplay includes subplots involving Adam's girlfriend, mother, therapist and fellow patients. Some parts work better than others, and everything works better than the clunky scenes between Adam and his wildly unprofessional therapist, portrayed annoyingly by Anna Kendrick.
What works best is the buddy comedy, because the friendship between Adam and Kyle rings true. Kyle starts off as the kind of character you would expect Seth Rogen to play - smart, but juvenile and prone to blurting out funny, vulgar remarks. Over the course of the film, we see more substance from Kyle - he's still an arrested adolescent, mind you, but he's an arrested adolescent who sticks with his friend through the hard times. Kyle's all right. Adam is a bright, self-effacing guy, the type Joseph Gordon-Levitt has played so well in previous films. He's not a saint, though - we see his anger and impatience with those in his inner circle.
The film is a lot like Seth Rogen's character - predictable and overly broad at first, with more depth revealed as the story proceeds. Did the diagnosing doctor need to be that insensitive? No, but from what friends have told me, there really are professionals whose bedside manner is as bad as his. Did Adam's girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), overwhelmed by her boyfriend's illness, need to do ... er, what she does? No, but it leads to a swell discovery scene by Kyle.
Adam's mother (Angelica Huston) comes across as a walking cliché at first, but you know she's going to become more nuanced because, hey, it's Angelica Huston. Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall are fine as fellow cancer patients who become friends with Adam. Their introduction made me nervous - I feared they would be too cute, noble, wise and generally adorable for words - but the veteran actors manage to make them feel genuine and relatable.
I don't have similarly positive words for Katherine, the inexperienced counselor/therapist played by Anna Kendrick. She starts off acting like an idiot and gradually evolves into a slightly less fidgety idiot. Adam's diagnosing doctor is cold and clueless. His therapist Katherine is a cluck. Good Lord, what medical facility from hell did this man select for his treatment?
Thankfully, no matter what missteps the screenplay takes, the relationship between best friends Adam and Kyle gets the proceedings back on track. 50/50 deals with one man's hell, made more bearable by his friendship with a loyal, loving doofus. It's inspirational without getting sappy, it's funny enough to make the painful parts bearable and it's credible when it counts.