Review: 50/50 (2011)

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old radio employee, is abruptly diagnosed with a very rare, life-threatening form of spinal cancer. Unable to turn to his self-obsessed girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) or domineering mother (Anjelica Huston) for help, he instead finds resolution with his oafish best friend (Seth Rogen) and novice therapist (Anna Kendrick).

It’s a rare feat for a film about cancer to be both funny and deeply moving in equal measure, but that’s exactly what makes 50/50 so distinctive. It’s a film that presents an entirely authentic account of the highs and lows a person faces when coming to terms with such an aggressive illness, predominantly thanks to Will Reisner’s adeptly crafted screenplay which effectively feeds off his own experiences as a sufferer of cancer. It manages, after a false start, to switch between extremes of tone – happy to sad, loving to sadistic – in an intuitive, almost undetectable manner.

Jonathan Levine’s direction is conscientious, and he operates with similar spirit as in The Wackness. Streamlined camera angles, unsentimental lighting and reverent editing all combine with the entire ensemble’s dedicated performances and Michael Giacchino’s sprightly score to transpose Reisner’s words to the screen. Without Levine’s input, the attuned screenplay would have fallen by the wayside – something which doesn’t even bear thinking about.

As touched on above, the performances across the board are top-notch. Gordon-Levitt delivers a subdued yet scene-stealing turn as the afflicted Adam, cementing himself as one of the best young actors in Hollywood. Rogen steps outside his comfort zone to act the part of Adam’s clumsy best friend, endearingly becoming a perfect companion for Adam. Meanwhile, Kendrick, Howard and Huston all play their parts with commendable fervour. Kendrick in particular approaches the intricate Katherine with enjoyment, wit and a hefty, thoroughly welcome dose of lovability. Her chemistry with Gordon-Levitt ensures Adam and Katherine’s sub-plot never feels forced nor sickly sweet.

Although thwarted by an unnatural start, 50/50 nonetheless defies expectations to provide a pronounced combination of drama and comedy, thanks to its energetic cast, restrained execution and intricate portrayal of a true to life prospect.

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