“You can’t change your situation, the only thing that you can change is how you deal with it.“ Joseph Gordon Levitt, 50/50
Jonathan Levine’s 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Phillip Baker Hall and more, is now streaming on Netflix and hit its decade long anniversary today. And there has never been a better time to look back on the film that has a lot to offer while dealing with the life of a man recently diagnosed with cancer.
Radio journalist Adam is diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his spine. He goes to the doctor with an unbearable back pain that turns out to be cancerous and he is given a 50/50 chance of survival. The news shocks him and sobers those around him. While trying to maintain his upbeat nature, he joins a cancer support group where he makes new friends who help him get by. Supported by his best friend, Kyle, who, despite his crude jokes, becomes a rock. However, his strained relationship with his mother and his girlfriend’s reaction thwarts his positive attitude. He visits a therapist in whom he finds solace that slowly culminates into a romance.
While the film is often considered a “cancer comedy”, the film never pokes fun at the illness; Instead, it encourages one to smile irrespective of whatever happens. The screenplay was based on the real-life experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser who had battled a tumour on his spine as well. The film ends on a positive and hopeful note and drives in various levels of happiness and amusement amidst the pervading melancholic premise.
For people who have lost loved ones to cancer or have had first-hand experience in this arduous battle themselves, the film will hit differently. Even those who have no experience will find themselves tearing up at Adam’s zest for life. His evolving relationship with his therapist is cathartic on many levels. Not only does he finally accept his father’s Alzheimer’s disease, which caused a rift between him and his mother, but also learns to look at things from a different perspective.
His girlfriend’s obvious fright and paranoia lead to her wavering loyalty and subsequent infidelity. However, Adam’s best friend, Kyle, is his ultimate support system. He cracks zany jokes and tries to use Adam’s condition to their advantage to gain sympathy-sex. Although they briefly have a falling out, Adam soon realises how precious their friendship is. Besides dealing with the gravity of the illness, the film is also a celebration of the very wholesome bromance that brews between the duo.
The actors add raw honesty and sincerity to their characters, making them human and real. Adam, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a ray of sunshine amidst the darkness supported by Seth Rogen as the best friend, Kyle. Anna Kendrick stars as the therapist Katherine who tries her level best, despite Adam’s sneers and jabs initially at her lack of experience, to help him get better. Her presence helps Adam truly find his purpose in life once again as she loves, cares for and supports him while clearing all the doubts that cloud his mind.
Levitt even shaved his head which was an impromptu on-set decision. As Rogen said, “we improvised the whole thing, which is not wise when it’s something you have one take for, but it turned out to be funny.” The actor later revealed that they had to be extra careful and precise while doing it as the act would be irreversible.
From the cancer patients in the support groups, whom Adam befriends, being the perfect epitome of the stages of grief providing him weed brownies to let go of his worries, talking about how he still has the best chances to defeat it, to the film providing an insight into the various emotional turmoil that this disease causes, 50/50 portrays a realistic yet hopeful and cathartic journey of a man who loses everything in an instant, only to rise back up and find purpose once again.