"Have you ever seen Terms Of Endearment?” That’s the question 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon- Levitt) uses to break the news of his cancer diagnosis to his mother (Anjelica Huston).
If you’re in the audience for 50/50, chances are your answer would be “no”. Because this is the terminal illness weepie for people who don’t watch terminal illness weepies, and it’s much the better for it.
Adam is living a normal, late-twenties life that are the stuff of Apatow-era comedies. He’s making progress in his job at a radio station and he’s just given his long-term girlfriend her own drawer. Then something very much not in the normal run of things for a 27-year-old happens; he gets diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
He must face his own imminent mortality with only the help of his wise-cracking friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) and Dr McKay (Anna Kendrick), a therapist so green she doesn’t even get a Doogie Howser reference. Which brings us back to Terms Of Endearment.
When Hollywood tackles terminal illness, it’s usually in the form of a mawkish weep-a-thon of death-bed wisdom, soaring string concertos and other tear-jerking trickery that’s about as subtle as a poke in the eye. If, in fact, a poke in the eyes seems preferable to 90 minutes in the company of Stepmom, My Sister’s Keeper or – worse luck – A Little Bit Of Heaven. Fear not;
50/50 is a very different beast. Which is not to say you should leave the tissues at home. Jonathan Levine’s film will get you, all right, but it’ll get you with uniformly excellent performances, a moving and well-deployed soundtrack and, most impressive of all, genuine emotional truths.
That’s probably because a lot of it actually is true. Screenwriter Will Reiser really was diagnosed with cancer in his twenties (he was actually 24) and Seth Rogen was the real-life annoying friend at his side.
Gordon-Levitt might be the ostensible lead – and he’s brilliant – but this is really Seth Rogen’s movie. If Superbad dealt with the problems of adolescence, Knocked Up and Pineapple Express with the problems of extended adolescence, then in 50/50 we see a character who’s finally forced to become a man. And it’s a maturing that seems to have taken place off-screen as well as on.
With nary a Judd Apatow credit in sight on his future CV, it looks like Rogen has finally broken out on his own.
Don’t call it a bromance. This Beaches for boys displays admirable restraint, an emotional wisdom that’s well beyond most contemporary comedies – and cancer gags to boot!