It seems strange how we have hundreds of horror movies that deal with zombies, serial murderers and sadists but there are no horror films about the most prolific killer of them all: cancer. Over half a million people die of cancer every year in America alone, whereas Zombies have so far failed to rack up even a single fatality in real life. Our point is this: cancer is something that has affected the majority of people, whether it’s first-hand or through a friend or family member has had to deal with, yet movies too often seem incapable of dealing with the matter. The subject is so grim that to deal with it honestly feels taboo but failing to acknowledge its severity is crass. Even in this age of ironic detachment and non-PC Frankie Boyle routines, movies about The Big C still have to walk one hell of a tightrope.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a young journalist whose life grinds to a halt when he is diagnosed with an exotic form of spinal cancer. We follow him as he breaks the news to his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best mate and colleague (Seth Rogen) and his mother (Anjelica Huston) and we get to see those relationships shift and morph as he proceeds with his treatment and considers the possibility he might die. His girlfriend initially promises to stay with him but the way their relationship plays out is understandable but tough to swallow.
The screenplay is written by Will Reiser, who based the story on his own experience with cancer. A television writer whose credits include Ali G’s HBO show, Reiser brings not only a deep personal understanding of the character’s situation, but enough perspective and clarity to realise that humour and terminal illness are not mutually exclusive. The structure of Reiser’s script gives 50/50 the rhythm of a comedy and there are funny scenes where Rogen and Gordon-Levitt try to use his cancer to pick up girls at a bar. The humour feels like it comes from a place of truth, and it stops the movie from becoming unbearably bleak or depressing.
The is acting is strong without being showy; with Bryce Dallas Howard, in particular, delivering on a role that could easily have been played unsympathetically. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove his leading man cred while Rogen demonstrates once more that his stoner persona can be an incredibly versatile tool.
Don’t let the heavy subject matter put you off watching 50/50. It’s an uplifting, well-observed, funny movie. But don’t take our word for it: click here and watch it, already…