50/50 Review
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There’s one word that can instantly take the energy, the excitement, the humor out of any conversation: cancer. In Hollywood, the disease has long been the focus of gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, award-winning dramas—the kind of movies that leave you feeling drained and depressed. But director Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 manages to capture both the heartbreak and the unexpected humor of a young man’s battle with the life-threatening illness.

Mild-mannered public radio writer Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has always been the cautious sort, so he doesn’t really think anything about going to see his doctor about a little bit of back pain. The diagnosis, however, isn’t what he expected: a malignant tumor on his spine. Suddenly, with just one word—cancer—Adam’s whole life changes.

At this point, other movies would turn melodramatic. Adam’s friends and family members would know exactly how to handle the situation. They’d be calm and supportive, holding his hand through chemo treatments and bringing him water while he wastes away on the couch. But that’s not how it works in real life—and, fortunately, that’s not how it works here, either.

Instead, Adam’s budding relationship with his girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), takes a serious hit. His domineering mother (Anjelica Huston) begins suffocating him. And, to make matters worse, his new therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), can’t offer much help—because he’s only her third patient. It seems that his only constant is his best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), who sees Adam’s cancer as a sure-fire way to get laid.

Cancer isn’t an easy topic to tackle. The mere mention of the disease makes most people sad and scared and extremely uncomfortable. But 50/50 takes a refreshingly different approach to the same old cancer movie, skillfully blending heartbreaking drama with side-splitting humor to tell an honest and compelling story.

Instead of simply focusing on the challenges and hardships of Adam’s illness, 50/50 covers all of the bases: the fears, the loneliness, the frustration, and the anger, as well as every last bit of the awkwardness. In fact, it fully embraces the awkwardness of the situation, triggering some naturally humorous moments. The tone, then, is constantly changing, alternately gut-wrenching and gut-busting. But that’s what makes it feel so sincere. Admittedly, it has a few Hollywood moments. But, as in real life, you’ll never really know what’s coming next—and, as a result, you’ll often find yourself laughing and crying at the same time.

Meanwhile, through the ups and downs, the comedy and the drama, Gordon-Levitt takes it all in stride. His character isn’t always lovable—and, at times, he takes his fears and frustrations out on those around him. Still, you’ll understand his behavior—and you’ll love him even when he’s at his worst. Not just any actor could pull that off, but Gordon-Levitt’s natural, understated performance—combined with an honest, well-written script—will make you stick with him through the good moments and the bad.

The subject matter may be serious, but 50/50 is beautifully, tastefully, and sometimes even hilariously done, making it a genuinely awkward and thoroughly enjoyable journey.

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