This Week at the Movies: 50/50

The cast of 50/50. Wow. Their perfor­mances are a guided tour of the most secre­tive insecurities, the deepest contradictions and the rawest emotions that we human beings harbor. 50/50 is not the comedy I expected it to be, nor was it the drama I ex­pected it to be. It was just as funny as life can be, just as tragic as life can be, just as human as people can be and just as mixed up as everything can get. There are movies that aim to make you laugh, cry or just feel good; and all of them skew the characters and the storyline a certain way to help you achieve the emotional closure aimed for. 50/50 never tries to. 50/50 transposes a slice of raw, unpolished life onto the big screen and these guys really pull it off spectacularly.

50/50 opens with a credits sequence against Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) jog­ging through a just-waking city, and al­ready you’re introduced to a meek young man who simply accepts his place in the world (a radio artist who talks about vol­canoes). When Adam sees a doctor about some back pains he’s having, he is told that he has cancer and he must undergo chemotherapy. Adam’s girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) promises support, but seems to be somewhat detached. His mother Diane (Angelica Huston), who has had to take care of Adam’s father who has had Alzheimer’s for many years, wants to move in to take care of him and his friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), who tries to cheer Adam up by getting him to use the cancer to get women. Adam also be­gins to see Katie McCay (Anna Kendrick), a psychology trainee still in school, and develops a friendship with two other can­cer patients, Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer).

Rachel gets Adam a dog to keep him company, called “Skeletor,” and starts cheating on him. Kyle, while on a date himself (that he got by garner­ing sympathy for Adam’s can­cer) sees this and tells Adam. Adam finally breaks his meek streak and commands Rachel to leave his house. Adam de­cides to have sex with a ran­dom girl using his cancer as a lure, but is unable to enjoy it because it hurts his back. Further meetings with Katie help develop a tenuous romantic connection between them.

On the day of the chemo, Adam is told that Mitch has died, and he starts to get really scared. Then Adam is told that the chemo has failed, and that they will have to go for a full surgery that could be high­ly dangerous and potentially life-threaten­ing. Even as Adam starts to have serious nervous breakdowns in the lead-up to his surgery, he slowly realizes the sheer tenac­ity with which all the people who love him have stuck with him. And, of course, I won’t spoil the end.

The performances are simply terrific. Spot-on, perfect, complex, layered, nu­anced and so palpable. Gordon-Levitt matures beautifully in his emotional arc, Rogen is perfect as the loud and funny – but ultimately true – friend, Huston is so beautifully conflicted in her role and Kendrick plays an emotionally mature version of her Up In The Air character to perfection. While the direction and screenplay were somewhat overshadowed by the performances, there’s no question­ing the fact that they served as the bul­wark to keep these performances focused and tangible. All in all, this is a movie that will make you laugh when you’re not supposed to, cry when you are supposed to and, at the end of it all, will make you love every character you’re supposed to. Watch it – and take your friends.

Contact Skrikar Gullapalli at

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