What I love about “50/50″ is that it frames the topic in the way that the tagline from the criminally underrated “Nothing in Common” did so expertly, “It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. Just like life.”
“50/50″ tells the story of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his friends and family as they deal with his cancer diagnosis. At 27 and in relatively good health the cancer comes out of nowhere. Adam himself keeps his emotions tightly wrapped, especially when in the care of his neophyte therapist. Throughout his journey he learns about not only about himself, but his loved ones place in their life.
The marketing film makes it feel like a broad comedy: his mother comes off as a nut job, his best friend a relentless horndog, and his girlfriend a narcissistic slut. Spoiler: the last one is pretty much dead on.
This is where marketing fails yet another film.
They trailer features way too much of Seth Rogen’s antics. His place in the film is much deeper than set ups about how cancer can help score girls or shaving your head with someone’s balls trimmer. Those moments give us a window into his character and how he is dealing with his friend’s diagnosis, but it does not define who his character is. It is the shorthand of who we expect Seth Rogen to be, and the end plays off those misconceptions.
Some people cannot handle the topic of cancer having a comedic spin; it is too close to them, and their own experience is deep with pain, fear and suffering. The ending may all be too pat perfect for some people. Understood. Some characters were too one-dimensional, see slut and doctor who delivers the diagnosis. Still, I find it hard to criticize writer Will Reiser as this is his story, and a well told one at that.
- The supporting cast of cancer patients features one of my favorite character actors: Philip Baker Hall. Initially beloved due to his turn as Bookman on “Seinfeld”, Baker Hall frequently classes up all manner of films with his expert delivery. I loved him in this film and freaked out my wife by knowing his name.
- Matt Frewer of “Max Headroom” fame shows up as well. He is great, but just not as cool as Baker Hall, especially when you consider his demerits for being in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”.
- My favorite scene occurs at the beginning of the film while Adam is out for a run. It sets the tone for his character perfectly. It is the type of economy in screenwriting that is underused. It looks so easy, but you know it took Will forever to get it just right. He and director Jonathan Levine nailed it.