Tuesday, October 25, 2011


50/50 - ****

Directed by:  Jonathan Levine

Starring:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan, Anna Kendrick, Angelica Houston, Bryce Dallas Howard

Review:  Of all the unknowns in this world about cancer one thing is for certain, everyone tries to sympathize.  Everyone has had a grandparent, parent, brother, sister, uncle, cousin or friend who has had cancer.  They will all use this peripheral experience as a way to relate to somebody that has just come down with this horrible disease.   What is not certain about cancer is how it effects each person and how each person deals with it.

Adam (Gordon-Levitt) has found himself in that position.  What he thought was some light back pain turned into a large tumor around the base of his spine.  Once the word “cancer” is uttered Adam’s life is irrevocably changed.  While cancer patients are much better equipped to beat it now than years ago, I would imagine it’s hard not to think the worst when presented with that information. 

Nobody knows quite how they will react when given this news, especially as a 27 year old.  At such a young age the feeling of invincibility is near its peak.  When that wall of invincibility is broken a 27-year-old’s life is turned upside down.  Adam has to deal with how his disease will not only affect his life, but those around him. 

If cancer isn’t bad enough, having to tell your family makes it worse.  You often hear that one of the worst fears of a parent is having to bury your child.  When presented with that possibility I can’t imagine what it would be like, either giving or receiving that information.  In a small but much nuanced performance Angelica Houston gives a realistic portrayal of how a parent would handle such a situation.
As a mother, Houston immediately gives way to her maternal instincts.  She immediately tries to fix the problem and help her son get better.  Parent are used to being able to solve all of their children’s problems, but the feeling of helplessness that Adam’s mother show’s is quite a feat for Houston.

Gordon-Levitt is not to be outdone by Houston.  On his journey through Chemo-Therapy Adam discovers many things about himself.  Adam has lived a life pretty enclosed.  He has a girlfriend that he doesn’t feel right about but has convinced himself is the girl for him.  His best friend may be dragging him down but they’ve been best friends forever.  Is this really the life he wants to remember?
This question begins to burn brighter in Adam’s mind when he begins going to therapy to talk about living with cancer.  His therapist is a young student still working on her doctorate (Kendrick).  Adam is almost insulted that he would be sent to this woman who is barely out of school and makes Adam her third patient.  He feels as though his situation is not being given the proper respect.  How is someone who isn’t even a doctor yet supposed to help him feel better?

What Adam goes on to learn is that it’s not about a therapist making him feel better.  She can’t control how his cancer affects him, only he can.  He begins to see that through this horrible event his world around him has changed.  He is incredibly terrified about the prospect of what lies ahead.  Even so, the world that he was questioning isn’t quite what he thought it was.  It didn’t really change, but Adam’s eyes have been opened to it for the first time.  With his eyes open Adam sees that his life is something to be cherished. 

Regardless of what happens Adam has learned that his life is more impactful to the people around him than he ever realized.  There is a newfound love for his life and those around him.  This wasn’t about growing up for Adam it was about growing out.  Adam realizes that he and the people in his life are interconnected.  He can change the course of his life if he chooses and all the people around him will be right there with him every step of the way.

With this very subtle transformation Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives possibly the best performance of the year.  Never once did I think that his reaction in any situation was unrealistic.  You could feel the struggle coming from Gordon-Levitt and his control over the emotion of the character solidifies himself as one of the bright young actors of today.  Seth Rogan provides a solid performance as well as Adam’s best friend Kyle.  Rogan injects enough funny but maintains a level of sensibility that still makes us realize why the two are best friends.  The writing is sharp and the directing is clear.  This is one of the best films of the year.

I would absolutely recommend this film.

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