Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

'So, Have You Seen 50/50?'

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

'So, Have You Seen 50/50?'

Article excerpt

I laughed; I cried; I cringed.

You may have similar reactions if you're a mental health professional, oncologist, or nurse and you decide to see the movie, "50/50." Spoiler alert: No one in the helping professions comes off well in this flick.

Still, I think the odds are better than 50/50 that you might find much to ponder in this film's portrayal of late adolescent/young adult cancer, which afflicts almost 70,000 Americans a year.

The film, which has earned the approval of a coveted 93% of 120 critics on the website Rotten Tomatoes, poignantly fictionalizes the real-life cancer struggle faced by screenwriter Will Reiser when he was 25.The movie captures the disbelief, isolation, and uncertainty experienced by 27-year-old Adam Lerner (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when a malignancy referred to as neurofibroma sarcoma-schwannoma rocks his world.

A cancer diagnosis, of course, stuns patients of any age. But its intrusion into late adolescence or early adulthood creates developmental bedlam. This is normally a daring, irreverent, exciting life stage, when a person dips a toe in the water of adulthood or maybe belly-flops right into the pool, and it's usually all okay. Parents become an afterthought, while peers, basking in their own self-absorbed and hedonistic glory, become running buddies, bed partners, and, of course, Facebook friends.

Cancer has no place in such a world, and 50/50 gets this part right. From Adam's reaction to the diagnosis ("That doesn't make any sense. I don't smoke. I don't drink. I, you know, recycle.") to his horror at the thought of his mother (brilliantly played by a brittle Angelica Huston) moving in with him, there is bittersweet humor, realism, and angst in this story.

Real-life Reiser had not only a rare tumor but a rare friend during his cancer battle, the rumpled, audaciously profane Seth Rogen. As Kyle, he basically plays himself in the film as a friend utterly over his head as he tries to muster the traits he knows the situation demands: loyal concern and dependability.

Predictably (and realistically, perhaps), Rogen's character uses his buddy's cancer as a means of attracting women, but he also hangs in there, makes his friend laugh, and scares away Will's distant, manipulative girlfriend before she can break his heart.

The doctoral psychology student Katherine (played by Anna Kendrick) who counsels Will throughout the ordeal is similarly flawed. She cares about him, demonstrating the "unconditional positive regard" that master psychologist Carl Rogers thought was the essential ingredient for therapy to succeed. Sadly, that's where Katherine's mastery of the profession ends. She essentially violates every ethical principle laid out by the American Psychological Association (thus my cringing), violating professional boundaries, confiding to Will her own relationship troubles, breaking confidentiality in the waiting room, and (I was really cringing now . …

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