Who knew having cancer could be so amusing? It sounds insensitive but that’s exactly the tone that Jonathan Levine finds with his new film 50/50.
Written by Will Reiser, it’s based on his real struggle with being diagnosed with cancer at 27. Substitute Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a surrogate for Reiser and Rogen as his best friend and you have a funny yet touching film about cancer, friendship and, unsurprisingly, the meaning of life.
Calling a film about cancer “funny” seems almost wrong. How could it possibly be funny? But that’s exactly what 50/50 explores. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Adam, a 27 year-old living in Vancouver and working in radio. He has a pretty normal life, lives with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and hangs out with his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen). That is until he finds a pain in his back is actually spinal cancer. Suddenly he’s living every 27 year-old’s nightmare. Well, everyone’s nightmare, really.
So begins his journey to not only regain his health, but to heal every aspect of his life. Staring death in the eyes, as many books and films will tell you, changes your perspective on almost everything. Luckily Adam has Kyle, a friend that not only stands by his side but one who looks at the advantages of his friend’s new situation.
But as Kyle attempts to keep his friend’s spirits up, the reality of having cancer is all too vivid. It’s not just throwing up in the middle of the night from chemo or having to break the news to his parents, it’s having to come to the realization that there may not be a light at the end of the tunnel. To deal with these issues he sees a hospital counselor, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), only to realize she’s younger and more inexperienced in life than he is. Still he keeps seeing her and a bond begins to form through a mutual friendship. As she helps him articulate his greatest fears and about how he can deal with them, he helps her grow up a bit and introduces her to the real world, the one that doesn’t exist in text books.
With The Wackness, director Jonathan Levine proved that he could create a film that has serious undertones with touches of sweetness and humor. Maybe that’s why writer Will Reiser and Seth Rogen (also producer) brought the film to him. This time the stakes are very real as Adam is facing death, but Levine is still able to bring out the humor in an otherwise serious and dark film. Of course, much of the humor does derive from Rogen (playing an alternate version of his actual self) but it fits as well in this film as it does in an Apatow film. Maybe it’s because Rogen is used to being in comedies that have real emotional cores but this is one of his funnier and more substantial roles.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt also fits the everyman well. Just watching him can be painful as you realize what his character is going through. He doesn’t have to say much, he exudes the frustration and the desperation that comes with his diagnosis through his actions alone. What he really does well is illustrate the dichotomy of having to realize death may not be far off but not wanting to give up on life. And that’s ultimately what the film is about —not giving up on life.
Tags: 50/50, jonathan levine, joseph gordon-levitt, seth rogen