Adam (Gordon-Levitt) discovers he has a rare form of cancer with 50/50 odds of survival. His girlfriend Rachael (Dallas Howard) vows to support him but struggles with the consequences while pal Kyle (Rogen) concentrates on trying to get Adam laid.
As quiet, shellshocked neatfreak Adam, Gordon-Levitt is a fitting replacement for original choice James McAvoy and a spot-on straight man for Rogen’s bolshie best mate, Kyle. This is Rogen on typical crude, blundering, weed-smoking form — familiar, yes, but in a crucially different context. This Rogen isn’t a buddy trying to escape comedy criminals or make a porno — he’s trying to get his head around the fact that his mate might die. His natural recourse is wit and partying, but later scenes hint at a more sensitive side that just about saves the day. And when you discover that he played this role for real to screenwriter Reisner, you wonder how much he’s acting at all.
As Adam’s inexperienced therapist, Up In The Air’s Kendrick brings elements of the precociousness and insecurity that landed her an Oscar nom and provides a welcome contrast to Bryce Dallas Howard’s vilified Rachael. Rachael is treated with utter derision, even when she is trying — if vainly — to do the right thing. 50/50 rightly attempts to explore the effects of cancer diagnoses on friends and family but leaves balance behind when it comes to a character whose perspective could have been at least partly sympathetic. Anjelica Huston’s funny, fussy mother is treated with a more forgiving tone and leads to one of the most emotional scenes in the whole shebang, even if her first reaction doesn’t ring true (wouldn’t she ask what kind of cancer her son had?).
50/50 is a boys’ club at heart: Adam even forms a blokeish bond with two older cancer patients played beautifully by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer. As with Rogen, their banter provides relief from the heavy subject-matter while the tragic truth is still written in their pale, chemo-ravaged faces.
With its emphasis on comedy, this skims over the more gruelling aspects of the disease but doesn’t rose-tint them like a sentimental TV movie. 50/50 throws in just enough detail to be believable and moving while remaining the right side of funny.
Whether you're after a comedy-drama about cancer or a Rogen laugh-fest with added heart, this does a remarkable job of balancing the odds. And the laughter/tears split? Call it 70/30.
Reviewed by Adam Smith