First things first – Spoiler alert. This film is based on a true story about a twenty something guy, Adam, who is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The guy lived to write a book about his experience so you know it’s going to end well. Um, well enough? He survives. This doesn’t make the film any less moving. It’s not sad because he gets cancer or happy because he survives it. It’s a journey through and beyond all of those emotions as well as the dynamics of relationship and the truth about humanity.
Let’s get straight to the point. This movie was brilliantly cast and impeccably directed. As if any of us needed another reason to love Joseph Gordon Levitt. Jesus. Who knew this child sitcom star was going to grow into one of the most interesting actors of his generation who continues to choose roles that rip into the hearts of everyday people. But, color me surprised, it was Seth Rogen’s Kyle that really brought this movie home for me. Not because this character was a stretch for him – he’s pretty much the same obnoxious asshole he is in every movie. But because this time it had purpose and a noble purpose to boot. Every person needs a friend like Kyle – someone who will treat you the same even when everything is changing, someone who will kick your lying, cheating, skank of a girlfriend/boyfriend out of your house and, above all, someone who will respond with honesty when you tell them the worst news of your life:
Unlike another recent page to screen adaption, The Help, where some of the most poignant moments were lost in the director’s explanation, 50/50 director Will Raiser allows space for the unsaid. His awareness of the complexities of Adam’s diagnosis, for Adam himself and those around him, as well as the larger narrative around the medical industry, are attended to with graceful subtlety. As a 27 year-old who doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs and exercises regularly Adam is beyond baffled by his diagnosis, which is delivered by his doctor in medical jargon and sans eye contact. It’s a moment, an experience, that can’t be fully described or understood only felt. Reiser has an astute grasp on the ways comprehension and language fail and invites us into Adam’s head using only a song:
The rest of the film evolves from this moment. Kyle’s fear for his friend is apparent yet masked by humor and Rogen nails this delivery in the way that only he can. His performance is perfectly juxtaposed by JGL’s straight man who, thanks to the stark humbleness of the actor’s portrayal, is anything but boring. The most interesting part was watching Adam’s walls come down and the way his world shifts because of it.