Comedy Down A Road Less Traveled
50/50 tells the story of Adam, a young man who, quite unexpectedly, is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The title refers to the survival rate for the particular type of cancer that afflicts him. It's impossible to tell this type of story without involving a significant dose of drama. But, 50/50 strives to be slightly more of a comedy than a drama. In less-capable hands, this movie could have been a complete disaster. Marrying these two seemingly incompatible subjects, comedy and cancer, runs the risk of the jokes feeling inappropriate and the drama coming across as insincere. Thankfully, in the case of this movie, the creators have walked the line in a skillful manner. The result is a reasonably compelling story with several downright funny moments.
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27 year-old, risk-adverse rule follower. His life is moving forward in a quiet, predictable and mostly satisfactory manner. He's got a job that he likes, at the local public radio station, and some meaningful relationships.
Kyle (Seth Rogen) is Adams best friend. In many ways, Kyle is the exact opposite of Adam; he's a live-for-the-moment, come-what-may type of person who has a real, almost subconscious, facility with people, especially women. The two counterbalance each other in a way that's mutually beneficial.
When it comes to women, Adam hasn't been all that successful throughout most of his adult life. However, he has a seemingly serious relationship with his live-in girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). But truth be known, he's unwilling to be honest with himself and others regarding how unsatisfied he actually is.
Bothered by back pain, Adam makes an appointment with his doctor whereupon he learns that he, quite ironically, has cancer. The callousness with which the doctor delivers - or rather does not explicitly deliver - the news to Adam was the one point in the movie that felt akward, like it was a characiture of reality. The handling of the scene was unfortunate since the circumstances were naturally dramatic; a more realistic dialogue would have added to the continuity of the movie, not detracted from the intensitiy of it.
In order to help him deal with the psychological impact of his situation, Adam is assigned to have therapy sessions with a staff therapist. Somewhat to his dismay, the hospital he's at is a teaching hospital and he is assigned to a student doctor, Katie (Anna Kendrick). As it turns out, Katie is even younger than Adam and furthermore she is uncomfortably inexperienced. In fact, Katie's so young that she doesn't understand Adam's reference to Doogie Howser - the fictional teenage doctor from the television show in the late eighties and early nineties.
As Adam's treatment progresses, his chemotherapy sessions introduce him to some older people in similarly grim circumstances who, nonetheless, have a wise and fundamentally optimistic outlook on life. He comes to appreciate the time he spends with his newfound friends. Undoubtedly, the various marijuana-laced foods they consume don't hurt the cause.
In the remainder of the movie, Adam transitions through several stages of self discovery and he has numerous revelations about the relationships he has with the people in his life. How the movie is going to turn out remains uncertain up until, well, the end.
I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive going into 50/50. The balancing act required to pull off the mix of plot elements in this movie is substantial. But, overall, the movie works. It's neither a great drama nor a great comedy, but it delivers an effective mix of both. The movie makes you care about Adam and the people in his life and there are quite a few laughs along the way.