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Film review: 50/50

Updated on November 23, 2011

The Big C. One of the world's biggest killers. With the disease affecting so many people, it's not surprising that there are not a whole lot of laughs to be had on the subject. Or so you would think.

There are currently two US TV shows that feature main characters suffering from the disease: Breaking Bad and The Big C. The latter definitely approaches the disease from a humorous perspective. As does this film.

Whilst out pounding the streets, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) notices he has a twinge in his back that's slowing him down. As his discomfort from it increases, he decides to go and get it checked out.

Unfortunately for him, it's not good news. His doctor tells him that he actually has a rare form of cancer growing on his spine. The doc suggests chemo in an attempt to reduce the tumour, and after the treatment they would take it from there.

Obviously being curious about his condition, he looks it up on the internet; reading through WebMD he finds out that those suffering from it usually have a 50/50 chance of survival.

This is devastating news for all concerned. His girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) is genuinely freaked out by the news. As is his best buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen). Kyle doesn't let it get him down for too long however, as he soon discovers that being seriously ill is a pretty amazing chick magnet. So as far as Kyle is concerned every dark cloud...

Meanwhile Adam's doctor also recommended that he talk to a therapist, to help him through this difficult period. When he turns up for his session however, Katherine (Anna Kendrick) isn't quite what he was expecting. Not only is she young and pretty, but she's also hugely inexperienced. After a couple of sessions however, she starts to grow on him.

No matter how much counselling Adam has however, cannot prepare him for the many changes in his life ahead that the disease has in store for him.

Although there are clearly comic moments throughout the film, this is no attempt at a gross out cancer comedy. The disease is always treated with the utmost respect; the laughs that are had are always at the expense of situations that are constructed by the characters own doing.

The sensitivity in which the material is approached is unsurprisingly from the pen of someone who suffered from the disease. Writer Will Reiser went through a similar experience himself, one that he shared with his close friend Rogen; so in effect, Rogen is playing a version of himself in the film.

It has to be said that it's always difficult to take Gordon-Hewitt seriously in any leading man role. He's just too darn wet to convey any spark of real personality in his roles. This bland, everyman aura works to his advantage here however, as there's no need for him to be larger than life, that's what Rogen is there for after all.

The fact that Reiser is writing from a place of familiarity means that the script never side steps the disease, and yet to still manages to prevent it ever feeling like a sombre made-for-TV flick. The humour in particular is occasionally risqué without ever being dark. Rogen could have easily been unleashed akin to a bull in a china shop, but shows great restrain.

Kendrick also puts in yet another sterling performance, where she just manages to breeze through scenes with seemingly little or no effort at all.

Director Jonathan Levine should also be given a shout out for maintaining a respectful balance between the humour and drama. Considering his lack of directing experience, he makes some bold strokes here.

50/50 is both warm and charming, which it manages to be without giving the disease too much credit. It's not a film about cancer; rather it's about a young man coming to terms with having the disease, and how to handle it in all aspects of his life. It will neither have you rolling in the aisles, nor filling up buckets with tears; chances are you'll love it though, and you can't say fairer than that considering its killer subject matter.

4 booms


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