At once a touching, memorable, and cheerfully profane comedy of modern manners among the sick and dying, 50/50 also provides a new generation’s take on the great medical movie melodrama, à la Dark Victory. The story follows Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old cancer patient struggling to beat the odds, or at least make sense of his disease. Through him we get a careful chronicling of the way bravado plays out against terrible, unexpected news, but also how our web of family and friends exists either to help or sometimes, because they’re human, betray.
There’s a very moving scene toward the end of this film when Adam is about to be rolled into an operating room. Grasping for his previously slighted mother (Anjelica Huston, unsurprisingly terrific), he worries loudly whether the anesthesia can keep him asleep during the surgery. He’s frightened, of course, that he will never wake, and loses his composure as the drugs begin to kick in. It’s something we’ve never seen in medical drama. And this is a hipster comedy.
Intelligent without an ounce of stuffiness, 50/50 builds fine relationship subplots out of Adam’s incongruous triangles: his girlfriends versus his coarse bromantic pal Kyle (Seth Rogen). Meanwhile, he meets therapist Katherine (the minutely precise Anna Kendrick), who is also lost at the beginning of a new, and sometimes frightening life. You find yourself cheering the tide of connection shamelessly because this film’s look at mortality is so unexpectedly frank. It’s a comic memoir, but it also feels like a labor of love; a powerful, funny, and entertaining movie based on existential fear.