50/50

By Vineberg, Steve | The Christian Century, December 13, 2011 | Go to article overview

50/50


Vineberg, Steve, The Christian Century


50/50

Directed by Jonathan Levine

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick

50/50 is a delicate balancing act: a comedy-drama about a 27-year-old man named Adam (the amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who learns he has a malignant spinal tumor and a 50 percent chance of surviving it. The lovely surprise is that writer Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine pull off twin feats: they sustain a tone pitched midway between ironic and poignant, and they touch the audience without pushing pathos at us.

The movie aims to steer clear of the first-you-laugh-and-then-you-cry agenda of Terms of Endearment, in which Debra Winger plays the young woman whose cancer foregrounds her dysfunctional relationship with her difficult mother (Shirley MacLaine). The idea is instead to present the cancer and chemotherapy as "Adam's Adventures in Wonderland." Everything he experiences is brand new and bizarre, and he has to figure out how to thread his way through this obstacle course of the unexpected.

There's the party that his co-worker and best pal Kyle (Seth Rogen) insists on throwing for him, at which friends and colleagues embarrass Adam with sentimentality and make it painfully clear that they assume they're saying goodbye to him. There's the chemo regimen, which throws him into a camaraderie with two older patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) who are on the same schedule. Adam discovers the pleasures of marijuana for the first time, which negotiates the effects of the chemo while keeping him cozy and remote in his newly found corner of the world.

Both his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his mother (Anjelica Huston) turn his illness into melodrama in which they're the stars. …

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