Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam
Seth Rogen as Kyle
Anna Kendrick as Katie
Bryce Dallas Howard as Rachael
Anjelica Huston as Diane
Marie Avgeropoulos as Allison
Lauren Miller as Dog Walking Girl
Jessica Parker Kennedy as Jackie
Philip Baker Hall
Will Reiser as Greg
Laura Bertram as Claire
Sugar Lyn Beard as Susan
Luisa D’Oliveira as Agabelle Loogenburgen
Andrew Airlie as Dr. Ross
Sarah Smyth as Jenny
Veena Sood as Nurse Stewart
Serge Houde as Richard
Daniel Bacon as Dr. Phillips
William ‘Big Sleeps’ Stewart as George
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Seattle native Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon Levitt) learns he’s contracted a rare form of spinal cancer, but because he doesn’t drive, he turns to his girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), his mother (Anjelica Huston) and a shockingly young therapist (Anna Kendrick), all who try their best to get him through the rough times.
Jonathan Levine’s third film and his follow-up to the highly-underrated “The Wackness” is based on a “Black List” script by Will Reiser, formerly called “I’m with Cancer,” that’s been developed by the guys behind “Superbad,” Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. While that might make you think to expect a lot of R-rated stoner comedy–and there’s some of that for sure–this is more of a seriocomic look at how one deals with the symptoms of a debilitating disease without letting it ruin their life.
Adam Lerner has been having back problems and when he goes to have them examined, he learns he’s contracted a rare form of spinal cancer. Since he doesn’t drive, he has to rely on those around him to get him to his treatments – his artist girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) agrees to help Adam get through it, but it quickly becomes obvious she’s not up to the task, while his best friend Kyle (Rogen) only really has two things on his mind: sex and smoking pot, but he’s there for his best friend. Adam’s also required to take therapy sessions from a highly inexperienced and quirky therapist, played by Anna Kendrick, and he befriends two older fellow chemo patients, played by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Freuer. As his condition worsens, Adam learns that Rachel has been cheating on him and with the help of Kyle, he kicks her to the curb, but things just get worse as it becomes obvious Adam will need an operation which he might not survive.
At first, it feels like Gordon-Levitt isn’t breaking too far away from the roles we’ve seen him play before–go ahead and make the “(500) Days of Summer” joke–but as he gets further into his chemo treatment, we start seeing different sides to the character coming out of the bitterness and anger with his situation. It’s just not about shaving his head, something we see Levitt do for real in a very funny scene, but he also completely changes his body language as he succumbs to the sickness and goes through an incredible transformation.
Rogen is certainly there to add the comic relief, and he does a fantastic job delivering the type of R-rated laughs for which we’ve become accustomed, and he plays quite well opposite Gordon-Levitt. Sure, there’s a lot of talk about blowjobs and pot smoking, but there’s also a poignancy to their relationship that doesn’t come out until much later. The two of them are just really good on screen together, the head shaving scene being a high point, but also having fun with a scene in which Kyle plays Adam’s wingman while trying to use cancer at times.
As far as the rest of the cast, there may not be anyone more perfectly suited to play one’s mother than Anjelica Huston, and while she appears only briefly in the movie, they’re all key sequences. The same can be said for Kendrick’s character who is quickly turning into the type of sharp-witted actress that “Annie Hall”-era Woody Allen would have loved. Her scenes with Gordon-Levitt really are the icing on the cake as they have a very different chemistry than he has with Rogen.
It’s not all laughs though, and the movie does get quite dark at times, but never so dark it might completely turn off an audience looking for casual entertainment. Overall, it’s a beautifully well-rounded look at how cancer affects the afflicted and those around them, as well as how to cope with some of the things that arise, and they find a satisfying way to end the film in an upbeat manner without copping out.
The Bottom Line:
“50/50″ rises above its difficult subject matter to create a movie that’s warm and poignant but incredibly funny as well. It’s a very special film, which is why it’s already one our favorite movies of the year.