Movie Review: 50/50

By Stephen Rebello

What's the measure of someone's life? Will Reiser's heartfelt comedy tries to answer that question.

Director: Jonathan Levine Rating: R Studio: Mandate Pictures

In 50/50, formerly titled I’m With Cancer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a sweet, caring, likeable radio writer in his mid-20s who gets slammed with a diagnosis of a rare form of spinal cancer. The character (based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own health crisis) confronts the devastating, Why me? news with humor, anger, stoicism, hope and grace. It’s a good thing, too, because, like many people hit by potentially fatal diseases, this fundamentally decent guy must tough out a grim situation with little help from those around him. His well-meaning, brittle girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), for instance, caves under the pressure, his terrified mother (Anjelica Huston) suffocates him with kindness, his jokey, emotionally limited best friend (Seth Rogen) uses it as a way to score gullible women. It’s only through interacting during chemotherapy sessions with others also battling the disease (like the no-nonsense Philip Baker Hall) and through sessions with a struggling, inexperienced young therapist (Anna Kendrick) that Gordon-Levitt’s character begins to regain his balance.

There’s no way the very touching, funny, honest 50/50 can avoid comparisons with Judd Apatow’s Funny People, which, among other similarities, also featured Rogen who, in addition, co-produced with Evan Goldberg his close friend Reiser’s 50/50. Those aside, the two movies are not all that much alike. 50/50, directed by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) is smaller, quirkier, more focused and more rudely funny. There’s also a nice ragged, indie movie energy to Gordon-Levitt’s scenes with Kendrick, both in and out of the therapist’s office, and Gordon-Levitt makes a sympathetic, heartbreaking standup hero, a perfect foil for Rogen who apparently plays a comic version of his off-screen self that is self-centered, relatable and hilarious. What’s the measure of someone’s life? 50/50 takes a stab at answering that thorny question and still does it with humor and big, heaping spoonfuls of heart.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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