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50/50 Reviewed

Ahead of its much-anticipated release tomorrow, we review the film that everyone has been talking about

Written by . Published on November 22nd 2011.

50/50 Reviewed

WE first meet Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on an early morning run, paused at a crossing, on an empty street, no car in sight, waiting for the little man to turn green. Sensible, cautious, ambitious, financially independent, hardworking and by the book, his world is about to be turned upside down.

Written after his own cancer scare, Will Reiser penned the script about the lows and the highs of his experience, detailing his family, friends, colleagues and own reaction. Caught in the middle, pulled in all directions, demonstrating the reality that nothing is perfect nor goes to plan and that life goes on.

Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, he discovers he has a supposed survival rate of 50/50 after a Google search (something I’m unsure that is ever confirmed nor denied by doctors). His life becomes charged with a new purpose, survival. In this new light, his old and new relationships come under scrutiny, taking on a different shape or ceasing to exist and it is in his pursuit for health that Adam truly begins to live.


Turning the notion that cancer is an ‘old person’s’ illness on it’s head, we see others fears, misunderstandings and coping mechanisms exposed, particularly his mother’s maternal instinct going into overdrive, insisting she moves in with him. His girlfriends unwillingness to step into his ‘new world’ and later her infidelity. His best friends shirking of responsibility and desire to party as a form of denial.

Initially I had trepidation about what was essentially being sold as a cancer comedy for the Superbad generation and unsure how such a feat could be executed tastefully. Call me uncultured, but I have not come across many other films that tackle such a subject so head on and unabashedly.

My initial knee jerk reaction eased as I began to reason the concept, realising such a universal, all affecting subject should not be put on a pedestal and like every situation in life, ludicrous and surreal, is open for light ribbing or absolute ridicule. Written after his own cancer scare, Will Reiser penned the script about the lows and the highs of his experience, detailing his family, friends, colleagues and own reaction. Caught in the middle, pulled in all directions, demonstrating the reality that nothing is perfect nor goes to plan and that life goes on.


Cringing at some of the story’s truths and innevitables: set in hip Seattle, jobs in media, constant coffee shop and gallery frequenting, slacker/stoner/unrealistic Cassinova best friend (Seth Rogen, writer Will Reiser’s real-life best friend), the film at first posed as some kind of indie, holier than thou, self-aware effort. 

Having said this, once over the initial hump of establishing it’s pretentions and coming to terms with my own prejudice, 50/50 built a decent momentum as the story became more engaging. Anjelica Houston is brilliant and believable, even more so when considering her limited screen time, as Adam’s mother she’s overprotecting, overbearing, and unreasonable, her motives clear, to look after her sick baby.


Rogen as foul-mouthed slacker Kyle, plays himself, yet again, but considering his friendship with writer Reisner, it could be some kind of real life/fantasy world crossing of the streams and his ‘performance’ this time even more so deliberately unadulterated Seth Rogen, perhaps not, but his character does become more endearing as the movie progresses. Fresh from the Twilight movies as ‘typical’ girl Jessica, who just wants to shop and gossip, Anna Kendrick is able to stretch her wings as doctor/councillor, Katherine.

The relationship between Adam and Kathrine an interesting one, both beginners to the field, he one of her first patients, she still in school working on her thesis/graduation paper, whilst Adam is new and confused by his illness. Through there shared inexperience he comes to terms with conquering his fears, realising this is really happening rather than him being a co-pilot to his predicament. 


Detailing Adams sickness tastefully and humorously, we’re afforded a reasonably unbiased account and insight into the life of someone suffering from and fighting a battle with a potentially fatal illness. Reisner’s firsthand insight allows for some incredibly touching and affecting scenes. 

Adam’s diagnosis is particularly poignant; Gordon-Levitt captures the bottom falling out of his world/air knocked from his lungs perfectly, alien and alienated, plunged into news, shocked and in disbelief. We later find him stoned in hospital after his first chemotherapy appointment, with a dumb smile and red eyes, hilariously making his way out of the building floating and carefree, encountering everything in a come-what-may fashion, laughs followed by the crashing of compassion, the bitter and the sweet.


Clever and relevant, pop culture utilised and harnessed, the whole five minutes of song ‘The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack’ by the Liars played in it’s entirety to perfection, expertly scoring the unfolding situation’s profound. The potency of fear and good-byes, the building of emotions, the instance of this is could really be it. Expect to laugh and cry. 

50/50 is released tomorrow

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