Joseph Gordon-Levitt's big moment comes when his character Adam locks the doors to his friend Kyle's car and lets out a lung-piercing scream — taking his frustration out in violent pounds against the steering wheel. It's a fleeting moment of the actor's powerful, phenomenal performance in "50/50," and one that left me sitting in silence with unshakable chills.
Moments before I was laughing uncontrollably. Moments later I'm fighting back tears. "50/50" gathers up all spectrums of emotions and delivers them with expert precision. For a movie with cancer as its thematic focus, it's the funniest comedy of the year.
Yet as the funniest comedy of the year, it's also deeply profound — conceived from personal experience by screenwriter Will Reiser, whose own personal battle with the illness adds an intimate touch to this hilarious, heartwarming story of two friends conquering cancer together.
As Adam, Gordon-Levitt is sublime. He masterfully wears the shifting emotions of his character, a 27-year-old diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in his back, and crafts an absolutely expert performance — the best of his career thus far.
Seth Rogen delivers nuanced hilarity as Kyle, Adam's best friend and the primary, comedic relief of the film. Kyle, a complicated character, is a sweet heart with poor intentions who occasionally manipulates his best friend's illness to pick up women. But he's also the person who never gives up on providing humor despite the situation of his and Adam's friendship.
"50/50" is a movie that never sits stone-faced at the subject of cancer. Reiser's script is reflective and true to the experience of dealing with the disease, but when so many films are afraid to find hilarity in life's tragic moments, this movie does find the humor and does so well. Being such a tonal tightrope that "50/50" walks, it's amazing how it never loses balance. To say I laughed and I cried sounds like a cliché©, but it's also the truest statement I can make.
The subplots weave and combine like clockwork.
There's tenderness in the relationship Adam develops with two older gentlemen (Matt Frewer, Philip Baker Hall), whom he meets during chemotherapy, as Hall's character graciously offers him some marijuana-laced macaroons.
There's a delicate duality in Adam's wrong relationship with a girlfriend who feels obligated to stay with him because of the cancer (Bryce Dallas Howard), and his right relationship with a young therapist (the always-adorable Anna Kendrick) through which romance slowly builds.
And there's such sweet, realistic family vibes in Adam's relationship with his overly caring mother (a brilliant Anjelica Huston). As a woman already playing nurse to a husband stricken with Alzheimer's (Serge Houde), the need to be there for her only son becomes an equal priority, which only irks Adam to begin with. A late scene between Gordon-Levitt and Huston is where the tears finally begin to flow.
I loved this movie. Touching, beautiful, uproarious, clever and filled with an incalculable amount of heart, "50/50" is worth seeing again and again.
It's a life-affirming story that lifts us up, reminding us to always find the laughter and love that lies in life's hardest moments. It reflects the importance of friends and family during battles such as cancer, and its universal message makes "50/50" so much more than it initially appears to be.