“50/50” focuses on Adam, a 27-year-old man furious with the futility of his life. He devotes himself to being a decent person, but is drowning in an endless sea of social squabbles and tribulations. He wants to speak up, but no words he shares will move the colossal pile of shit life left sitting on top of him.
Then Adam gets cancer.
Inspired by screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experiences of being given only a 50% chance of living after being diagnosed with cancer, “50/50” has a rawness to it that rarely feels manufactured. This isn’t a movie-of-the-week designed to unleash our tears, but a heartening, methodical look at a millennial grappling with the truth that he isn’t actually immortal.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a public radio producer living in Seattle with his smiling but insincere girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). Adam is immensely polite and sticks to the system, refusing to jaywalk despite no other cars in the area, and preemptively apologizing to his boss before he’s even been accused of doing something wrong. His friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) is more free-wheeling, proudly speaking his mind and unabashedly hitting on every girl in a 50-mile radius. His life may not be as exciting as Kyle’s, but Adam relishes his security, the comfort of monotony more satisfying than the ecstasy of trying something new.
Adam’s cancer diagnosis springs his emotional journey to life. He’s curmudgeony but at least more emotionally open with his young therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick). He speaks his mind to Rachael, finally deciding that no girlfriend is better than a bad yet safe one. And he comes to terms with his mother’s (Anjelica Huston) nagging nature, his constant desire to be treated as an adult crushed by his desperate need for a hug from his mommy.
The story is simple and Jonathan Levine’s direction is friendly but forgettable. But it’s the earnest relationships that make “50/50” an encompassing watch, with each character reminding you of yourself or someone else in your life. The only relationship that is troubling is that of Adam and Katherine. Their therapy sessions feel not so much professional counseling as psychological flirting. Since the doctor patient relationship is sacrosanct in our reality, making it a game in “50/50” sadly dispels our suspension of disbelief.
“50/50” is charming but doesn’t have much of a personality, a film that dishes out occasional half-laughs with characters that could have been played by any other actor to equal effect. It’s the script, though, that hooks us, a success story of a normal guy and his beloved support system, a series of relationships that only grow stronger the more strain they’ve been through.