in Review

Never Tell Me the Odds


While we all wait with bated breath for Nancy’s Moneyball review, I figured I might as well right something about the other movie everybody’s probably already seen by now. In 50/50, Adam, the proxy for screenwriter Will Reiser, finds out he has cancer in his back. He’s only 27 years old and seemingly quite healthy, so that’s a bit of a surprise. But so is this movie, which manages to find plenty of humor in what seems like entirely depressing material. Or perhaps the bigger surprise is that a movie that features Seth Rogen in a key supporting role can find a way to bring real tenderness and truth.

Adam’s a pretty sympathetic dude. He’s not getting any from his girlfriend, but he’s OK with that. He seems to be the one guy at the public radio station he works at that really takes the job seriously, spending hours working on a report on a volcano while Seth Rogen just busts out a story about the best burgers in Seattle. And then he’s got cancer on top of that. There’s not too much to this story, it simply follows Adam and the important people in his life as he deals with his disease. As we’ve all seen in Breaking Bad and other cancer stories, the disease affects more than just the person it inflicts. And so it is that we have to watch Adam’s girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) struggle with the disease and his mom, Anjelica Huston, desperately try to become a bigger part of Adam’s life. Most significantly, Adam starts spending time with fresh-faced psychologist Katie (Anna Kendrick, playing the same part she seems to always play).

I referenced Breaking Bad because 50/50 does a few things that seemed very reminiscent of that show. When Adam gets the prognosis, the scene plays out very similarly to that part of the Breaking Bad pilot. Not that there’s really anything wrong with that, I just really like Breaking Bad and I’ll take any opportunity I can to write about it.

It’s inescapable that 50/50 is based on the real-life experiences of Will Reiser and Seth Rogen. I don’t know for certain what parts of this story are based on reality and what are invented, but I could guess. Seth Rogen, I’m guessing, is just playing himself, which is to say he is playing the same stoner slacker character he usually does. The movie has some scenes that were pretty raw. Some of them were done for the comedy, and they delivered hearty laughs that this year has been missing. Others are more emotional, and they’re surprisingly affecting. Particularly, a scene in the hospital had me choked up. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really good here, perhaps good enough to warrant awards attention, if you care about that sort of thing.

But its probably the comedy that I’ll remember about 50/50. The scene trying to use cancer as a pick-up line. A great turn by Philip Baker Hall. That greyhound named Skeletor. There’s a lot to love. This is a pretty special movie.