A comedy about cancer is not something the average person feels comfortable laughing at. But when writer Will Reiser has been through the illness, it makes sense that he has something to say about getting over the ‘Big C’ stigma that the rest of us more fortunate people are inflicted with. Paired with Seth Rogen, who is Reiser’s good friend in real-life and helped him through the illness, the story behind 50/50 begins to intrigue further and adopt some well-meaning gravitas.
This is a story about friendship, love, survival and finding humour in unlikely places. 50/50 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rogen as best friends Adam and Kyle whose lives are changed by a cancer diagnosis given to supposedly ‘healthy’ Adam, and follows how they individually cope with the news on Adam’s road to recovery.
Admittedly, the idea of ‘big kid’ Rogen making fun of cancer on screen feels altogether unnerving at first, considering his CV of immature, dope-smoking roles in the past. As Kyle, he starts out as expected, shirking responsibilities to remain the eternal frat boy, chasing skirt and partying hard. But with his trustworthy companion, Gordon-Levitt, in tow, who instantly reassures you the journey you take with the characters will be a worthy and heart-felt one, all joking is sensitively executed after the bombshell drops.
The Gordon-Levitt-Rogen bromance is one of the most exciting and fun ones in recent comedy history, and the pair have a wonderful natural rift that considering they first met on this film, would fool anyone into thinking they’d been friends for life. This is the primary reason 50/50 works. Events are also given breathing space to unfold, with reactions to the news both expected and random and exuding a bittersweet humour, resulting in director Jonathan Levine’s story having a lot of credibility, rather than haphazardly trying to draw laughs using the Rogen touch. Admittedly, where Rogen is involved, there is always the odd, idiotic throwaway comment, so expect that, too.
Anna Kendrick as inexperienced cancer counsellor Katherine and Bryce Dallas Howard as Adam’s girlfriend Rachael make up the female contingent in this, alongside a wonderful turn from Anjelica Huston as Adam’s overbearing but concerned mother. Kendrick and Dallas Howard play chalk-and-cheese characters, but share the common sense of paranoia of “saying and doing the right thing”. Against them, we get to compare our reactions to events and how we would deal with such a circumstance; through them, it’s as though we are allowed to feel guilty and ill equipped, and that is a refreshing and personal element Reiser has brought to the script. It also enables us to not make light of how we deal with it, which is where the humour lies.
If nothing else, 50/50 is ironically laugh-out-loud funny and equally brave and tragic, without being weepy and affected, or worse still, condescending. It’s angle is to be as matter-of-fact as its stars in what transpires, which is its guilty and unique pleasure.