50/50 (formerly titled I'm With Cancer) is an emotional, hilarious and true story, based on screenwriter Will Reiser's time with cancer. Reiser wrote (and Rogen produced) 50/50 as there was the feeling that there was no "cancer film" that actually spoke to the experience of Reiser and his friends. Thus was born the dramatic comedy about cancer!
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Adam, the Reiser
stand-in while Reiser's real life friend Seth Rogen is Kyle, Adam's
best friend and constant source of support. Instead of working as a writer on Da Ali G Show as Resier and Rogen were, Adam and Kyle work as writers in radio. Adam is something of a wet blanket/doormat - he's nice to a fault.
He agonises over perfecting a radio segment on volcanoes, is a healthy neat-freak
and is involved with the passive-aggressive artist Rachael
(Bryce Dallas Howard) where he's the only one who offers anything to the relationship. Kyle is, on the surface, the typical "Seth Rogen type character" we've all come to know - loud, a little on the obnoxious side but with such charm and zeal he gets away with it. Kyle often comes off as a selfish jackass more concerned with getting laid but he's really just trying to keep things as normal as possible for his friend and being there in his own way. Rogen's energy, to me at least, works better as a support actor than the lead of a film.
The overall view of the "cancer experience" takes in a fair amount of territory - from Adam's workmates already thinking of him as dead to the counselling sessions with Anna Kendrick's kind and well-meaning but inexperienced Katherine. The relationship between Adam and Katherine was sadly one of the more obvious and under-developed but the two actors are just damned good enough to get you through it. Adam bonds with fellow cancer sufferers Matt Frewer and Phillip Baker Hall and fends off his over-protective mother, Anjelica Huston. His girlfriend, Rachael, is pretty much the worst girlfriend imaginable. Howard's character is given absolutely no redeeming qualities and is an all around shitty human-being, let alone a less than supportive partner. While it would have been preferable to see something good within her, to at least explain why Adam is with her in the first place, Howard is absolutely fearless with the role. She fully embraces the absolute crapiness of the character and goes with it for all she's worth.
There are emotional gutpunches that really hit home thanks to a combination of understated performance and a script that shies away from open manipulation. It's all coming from a place of honesty and experience; not the facts necessarily but the frightening reality of it. I don't think there's a person out there reading this who hasn't been touched by the dark spectre of cancer in someway. It is, of course, a very sensitive subject. Some might see the use of comedy as some sort of cheap trick but really, our lives are made up of parts comedy and drama every day. Why should this be any different? And the fact this is coming from a real, experienced place and that comedy can be marshaled to say something about us as humans just as much (if not more) as overly sentimental mush should get any thinking person past any reservations they might have. Reiser and director Jonathan Levine show no interest in being mawkish or obvious but rather give us something original, honest and intelligent. There's a balancing act in terms of tone here - a comedy about cancer?! C'mon, that's an almost impossible ask - either you go for gross, offensive comedy or overly emotional drama. What 50/50 does is give a perfect blending of the two - Reiser and Levine know when to go for the laughs and when to pull back and let the emotion hit you.
The ending can't really be spoiled can it? Reiser obviously survived his time with cancer because he was around to write the script, but 50/50 is a film more about the journey than the end destination (whatever that may be). It's not a perfect film but it is a very human film.