“50/50,” the new cancer comedy based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s experience, isn’t trying to be funny. It isn’t trying to be sad. It sidesteps the opportunity to give into melodrama, and doesn’t create crazy situations in order to squeeze out a laugh from the audience.
It’s just a simple story that is extremely well-told. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 27-year-old whose life is turned upside down when he is unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer in the form of malignant tumors up and down his spine. I know, there’s nothing even the slightest bit funny about this premise – in fact, I’m sure a lot of people will steer clear of this film because of the depressing subject matter. But what most people don’t realize is what an uplifting, real, honest, tough and hilarious movie it really is.
It proves that humor can be found in a subject completely devoid of any happiness. Adam’s best friend Kyle, played by Seth Rogen (who is Reiser’s best friend), doesn’t much change the character he usually plays just because of the delicate topic; he’s sex-crazed and foul-mouthed, but he also cares deeply about his friend and refuses to act differently around him because he’s sick.
But it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance that makes the film the emotional rollercoaster that it is. Not once does he overact, and not a single moment feels forced or untrue. He’s relatable and likable yet he’s not afraid to show the bitter side of the character, a man who lives his life with a focus on safety (he doesn’t even have his driver’s license because of the amount of car-related deaths) only to still be stricken with a disease in which he has a 50 percent chance of survival. This is his career-defining performance, one that I hope won’t be overlooked during award season.
With a subject as sensitive and serious as cancer, it seems nearly impossible to create a film that’ll genuinely have you laughing one minute and then wiping tears away the next. Thankfully, the film beats the odds and emerges as one of the best movies of the year so far.