50/50. Starring Joseph Gordon Leavitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Rated MA 15+ (Strong coarse language, sexual references and drug use). 100 minutes.
The makers and marketers had a lot of trouble finding just the right title for this film – and for audience acceptability. It is 50% (perhaps a bit more) about terminal illness and 50% (perhaps a little less raucous comedy). Working titles included ‘Live with it’ and ‘I’m living with cancer’. The trouble may be that those who want the raucous comedy (with the promise of Seth Rogen sex dialogue blurted out in his usual way) may find the illness theme too much of a downer, while those who are interested in the illness and treatment may find the other aspects too raunchy for their taste.
So, what they came up with for the title is 50/50 which does cover all bases. The statistic is that given to Adam (Joseph Gordon Levitt in a quite moving performance, mostly quietly and accepting of his situation) of whether the treatment for his cancer will be successful or not. The audience lives with that statistic throughout the film.
Adam is 27, fairly ordinary, a television program maker, who has an overwhelming mother (Anjelica Huston) and a father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s (Serge Houde). He is living with a seemingly attractive young woman, Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard). His best friend is Kyle (Seth Rogen whose dialogue and delivery remind us of his character and performance in such films as Knocked Up).
A lot of the film is not just about Adam coping with the diagnosis and the chemotherapy but about how his relatives and friends deal with it, some well and some not.
He is assigned a therapist, a 24 year old who is researching her thesis. This makes for some very awkward scenes as the polite and common-sensed Adam works with Katherine (Anna Kendrick) and her theoretical approach and some of her gaffes.
50/50 has a lot of things going for it, especially a young person facing up to the possibility of dying without having lived a great deal of life. The behavior of mother, best friend, girlfriend and doctors means a range of reactions which ring true – but also challenge us as to how we react in this kind of situation (worried about ourselves and feelings before the state of mind of the person diagnosed).
Director, Jonathan Levine, has been unpredictable in his choice of projects, from the horror story, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, to the odyssey of a young man in 1990s New York City, The Wackness.
We may not always approve of how Adam and his friend, Kyle, try to cope with Adam’s illness, but we will realise that coping with terminal illness is not something one does according to a worked-out plan.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out March 8 2012.