50/50 (2011) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4) : Laugh/Tear – 50/50

  While recognizing the harsh reality in its story without sugar-coating, “50/50” finds humor in the gravity of hero’s situation, and it works better than you think. Like the title suggests, the movie is an equal mix of comedy and drama. It does a pretty good job of balancing itself between its two elements; while it does not allow itself to be sunk by its depressing side like ‘the disease of the week’ movie, it never forgets that the pain and desperation in the struggle with the disease.

Cancer is certainly not something to laugh about, especially when there is the possibility of your death. However, in case of Adam(Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the life has already put a big joke on him when he gets the cancer diagnosis. He has exercised regularly and cared a lot about what he eats, but he gets a rare spinal cancer. He searches Internet and finds that his recovery/survival chance at the best condition is exactly 50%. It’s terrible, but should he say the glass is half-full, or half-empty?

Adam notifies the other people around him about his diagnosis. Their reactions are not different from what you expect from ordinary people when they hear that kind of news. His mom(Anjelica Huston) wants to help his son, but Adam points out she has her senile husband to take care of. His artist girlfriend Rachel(Bryce Dallas Howard) says she will stand by him. She buys him a dog, which is not recommendable to the patient going through chemotherapy in my knowledge. His best friend Kyle(Seth Rogan) tries to brighten him up. The people at his workplace(he works at some radio broadcast station) tell him how sorry to hear about that, though they are mostly half-sincere.

 He begins his chemotherapy at the hospital, where he meets his fellow cancer patients(Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer are delightful as the guys who has been accustomed to their condition and accepted it for a long time). The first day seems okay at first, except he has to spend a long time while the drug is injected into his body. However, the complications from the chemotherapy soon appear. The head gets dizzy, the body feels weaker than before, and there are frequent urges to use the bathroom. I remember how weak one of my aunts looked when she went through her chemotherapy four years ago. My mother, who also went through a hard time with a uterine cancer when I was young, told me later that my aunt ate the lunch prepared by her with gratitude but then went to the bathroom and emptied her stomach.

It becomes harder for Adam. The relationship between him and Rachel gets deteriorated. Eventually, she admits she cannot help him anymore and then moves out of their house. While it cannot be denied that Rachel is a selfish woman, the movie has some pity on her. After all, she is incapable of passing the test she is thrown into. It is pretty hard to move on for cancer patient, but moving along with him/her is not easier than that – it requires a lot more than love.

It turns out his best friend Kyle is the one who stands by and supports Adam. Kyle drags his friend outside of his house because, well, the life may be short. He takes him to the bookstore for buying the books on how to deal with cancer. He also takes his friend to a bar, where the girls show considerable interest to Adam when he says he has cancer. Not far from his previous comic performances and his chubby teddy bear persona, Seth Rogen is both funny and touching. It might help that he knew well about his character, because his character is based on none other than himself. As a matter of fact, on Rogen’s suggestion, the screenplay writer Will Reiser wrote the screenplay based on his difficult experience with cancer, so you see there are lots of authentic aspects in the film.

 Reiser’s story moves back and forth between humor and pain without any sappiness, and so does Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He and Rogen have nice comic chemistry between them; there are many small funny scenes between them such as when Adam decides to shave his head before losing his hair(Gordon-Levitt really shavec his head in front of the camera, by the way). Meanwhile, as the part of cancer therapy, Adam routinely meets a young therapist Katherine(Anna Kendrick), who confesses to him that he is her third patient during their first meeting. It does not take long to realize for both that they are getting closer than they think, and Kendrick and Levitt have warm, sweet moments while they try to be just a therapist and a patient. While both are sensible persons, they can’t hide the fact well that they like each other.

Adam still has the cancer, and he may die. Naturally, the movie is drawn to the area of melodrama around the third act where Adam goes through the most difficult stage in his life. His view on life is certainly changed because of his hard time, and he thinks he can accept his risk, but we all find ourselves helpless and restless before the possibility of our death, and so does he. Fortunately, he struggles with his difficulty while the people who care about him are near him. As the mother who may be overprotective but is deeply concerned about her son’s health state, Anjelica Huston has a good scene with Levitt when they have a brief open-hearted conversation between them.

“50/50” is a funny comedy/drama with lots of heart. It treats its dark subject with respect and authenticity, and, even at its most dour moment, it does not lose any of sense of humor while not trying to push the drama too hard. The death is already approaching to us right after we come into our world, and we are afraid of that because we cannot stop it, but it may be a little better if we have some sense of humor – and the people who can share it with you, along with tear and laugh.

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