Writer’s own story
Comedy writer Will Reiser wrote the outstanding screenplay based on his own diagnosis and struggle with the Big C.
Depression and anger are dealt with matter-of-factly, but the film never becomes sappy or too melodramatic. It’s just long enough at 100 minutes. Levine directs with deft insight.
Cautious character gets sick
Gordon-Levitt plays a soft-spoken Seattle radio producer who lives carefully. Adam jogs. His new girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) is just moving in. Adam doesn’t even have a driver’s license because he fears traffic accidents, “the fifth leading cause of death.”
Shaving his head on screen, Gordon-Levitt is wonderful throughout. His measured performance contrasts sharply with his wild, deranged Hesher.
Kyle’s friendship important
Adam’s best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen, excellent as a loyal, rollicking dude) helps him cope and make life changes. Rogen, who also produces here, infuses humor into the story seamlessly, even during Adam’s worst moments.
Adam meets two new friends at chemotherapy, Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer). The trio enjoy pot-filled macaroons courtesy of Mitch’s wife.
Rachel cops out
Rachael vows to stand by Adam when he breaks the news, but won’t go with him to weekly chemotherapy at the hospital. Dallas Howard sensitively portrays a flawed girlfriend with cool realism. Rachael simply can’t muster the strength to face Adam’s illness.
Adam goes through the phases of healing with the help of his doctoral student-therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick of Up in the Air, sincere and memorable). Mostly Adam compartmentalizes rage and grief as he watches TV, not even calling back his smother-love mom (Anjelica Huston).
Adam’s social life
Kyle insists that Adam’s odds are not that bad. He urges his pal to keep seeking the right girl. Even walking Adam’s plaintive pooch Skeletori becomes an opportunity to cruise. Adam isn’t that enthusiastic. “I look like Voldemort,” he quips.
Surgeons are portrayed spot on here, with robot-like Dr. Ross (Andrew Airlie) and a somewhat warmer female neurosurgeon Dr. Walderson (Donna Yamamoto).
Bonding with his parents
Adam finally grows closer to his parents. In one of Gordon-Levitt’s best scenes, he bonds with his dad (Serge Houde) who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Casting by Francine Maisler (casting director for Moneyball and The Tree of Life) is superb. Michael Giacchino composed the fine score.
Adam tells Katherine to drop the feel good talk. Death shadows him. (4.5 out of 5 stars)
50/50 2011 / R / 1 hour, 40 min
Cast Overview: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Philip Baker Hall, Serge Houde
Director: Jonathan Levine
Genre: Dramedy, Bromance