Few reach the age of reason without knowing someone who has been cursed with cancer. The disease is ubiquitous, knows no boundaries or parameters and strikes at will. But is more heartbreaking when it invades the young, those whose dreams have not yet blossomed, let alone realized. “50/50” tackles successfully a young man’s journey through the unknown blackness and fathomless maze of emotional upheaval, trauma and disbelief in dealing with the horrific side effects of chemotherapy and one’s tenuous, limited mortality.
Partially autobiographic (Will Reiser wrote the screenplay after his cancer diagnosis); his friend and co-producer Seth Rogen depicts “Kyle” the empathetic, sympathetic buddy of “Adam” (a realistic and powerful performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt); Kyle never wavers in his heroically, humorous dedication to Adam; his love for his lifelong friend encapsulates the formula, the essence of true friendship; their scenes together scintillate seriousness, levity, familiarity and the bonds of brotherhood.
Gordon-Levitt scales the tremendous range of emotional chaos and bewilderment Adam is forced to recognize and accept, with dignity, reconciliation and benign hope; the powerlessness of a twenty-seven- year- old facing a cauterized existence, a life known, shunted into a whirlpool, volcano, vacuum of nothingness; inescapable terror. His performance ranks as one of the great, quiet, pungently profound studies of human nature in recent films.
Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) charming, barely looking like a twenty-four- year- old PHD candidate; counseling those with the big “C” ; her efforts are supreme, likeable, naively successful. “Rachel” the vapid, artless, annoying girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the catalyst, igniting (with Kyle’s help) Adam’s awakening, epiphany as to what ingredients constitute a legitimate relationship; theirs lacked the flour, eggs and all the spices. Anjelica Huston, as “Diane”, Adam’s mother is incomparable, she emanates courage and fortitude as a wife straddled with a husband suffering from Alzheimer’s, she “smothered” but loved her son immeasurably.
Some have criticized the use of humor in dealing with the devastation of a predestined demise. Humor is a major coping weapon, it salvages the mind, spirit, heart of the victim and those who love them. I lost a younger sister to cancer but the tears were flavored with laughter; when death is inevitable, clouds of meaningless minutia dissipate, unspoken thoughts, secrets revealed; the aftermath, the aura of having known and loved, cherished; this is happiness, no matter the duration, laughing, rejoicing; separated, but spirits for eternity, dancing in the sun.
“50/50” gracefully strokes the cords of human frailty, resulting in a hymn of poignant strength and glory.