Laughter is the best medicine for a 20-something man coming to terms with a rare form of cancer in Jonathan Levine’s heartfelt comedy.
Loosely based on the real-life experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, who faced a cancer diagnosis aged 24 and underwent surgery to remove a tumour from his spine, 50/50 unearths moments of heartbreaking emotion amid the hilarious vulgarity.
The central character’s frustrations and terror will resonate deeply with anyone who has battled this terrible disease or nursed a loved one through chemotherapy and treatment.
Cancer is blind to gender, age, race and social standing: It is relentless and the might of the lancet cannot always stop its advance.
Levine’s film treats the subject sensitively and candidly but doesn’t wallow in self-pity.
As the patient’s best friend helpfully proffers, “Young people beat cancer all the time... Lance Armstrong keeps getting it!”
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works behind the scenes at Seattle Public Radio with best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), who makes public his dislikes for Adam’s artist girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard).
A doctor’s appointment to determine the reasons for Adam’s acute back pain reveals the quietly spoken 27-year-old has a tumour that must be treated immediately.
His chances of survival are 50%.
Rachael fails to offer emotional support so Kyle steps in, ferrying his pal to appointments where Adam meets fellow patients Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer).
Adam also encounters inexperienced psychologist, Katherine McCay (Anna Kendrick), who has been assigned to help him work through his maelstrom of emotions.
Ever the joker, Kyle tries to lift Adam’s spirits with a night on the town.
“No one wants to have sex with me - I look like Voldemort!” laments the patient.
There is also the matter of telling Adam’s mother (Anjelica Huston), who has her hands full caring for a husband (Serge Houde) with Alzheimer’s.
Buoyed by the support of the people he loves and a rescue greyhound called Skeletor, Adam weathers the onslaught on his body, determined to see his 28th birthday.
50/50 stylishly melds a buddy comedy and romance with Adam’s battle against the disease, sidestepping mawkish sentiment to cut as close to the bone as possible.
Gordon-Levitt delivers a magnificent performance as a nice guy, who finds courage at his lowest ebb.
Rogen confidently pockets the big laughs but reveals his character’s heart too and Kendrick continues her meteoric rise with a nuanced and warmly endearing turn as the medical professional, who has as much to learn as the people in her care.
As Will readies himself for the surgeon’s scalpel in the film’s closing act, Levine delivers a series of exquisitely judged scenes that leave us choking back tears, our hearts uplifted.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 8/10
Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland), 100 mins