50/50 (2011)

Rated R. Our Ratings: V-4; L -1; S/N –1. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

A friend loves at all times,
and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.
… …
The human spirit will endure sickness;
but a broken spirit—who can bear?
Proverbs 17:9 & 18:13

Adam tells Kyle his bad news.

© 2011 Summit Entertainment

Although director Jonathan Levine’s film is billed as a comedy and co-stars Seth Rogan, do not be de ceived by the label. There are laughs aplenty, but there will also be tears, tears that this film comes by honestly. The film’s title comes from the odds for survival of 27 year-old Adam Lerner, stricken with a rare form of spinal cancer. Amidst co-star Rogan’s usual profanity and sexual comments, you will encounter a tender, deeply moving drama of a young man struggling with and adjusting to the severe treatment of the disease, with loving support from best friend Kyle (Rogan) and numerous persons in and out of his family.

Screenwriter Will Reiser based his script on his own battle with cancer (and the support he received from real life friends such as Seth Rogan), so the story is authentic and free of the usual weepiness of such medical dramas. Adam is wonderfully played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anjelica Houston is his protective mother, also burdened with the care of her Alzheimer-afflicted husband. Seth Rogan is his usual raunchy self, but in several tender moments we see him as the kind of loyal friend whom we would want beside us if we had to go through chemotherapy and related treatments. Although not a religious man, Adam learns what, and who, is important in his life—and just how precarious everything can be (note his last name). Hitherto his life as a writer for an NPR radio program had been idyllic, and then comes the day following his physical exam for the cause of his back ache when his doctor gave him the lab results, coldly telling him that he had cancer and that his chances are 50/50. The medic’s concern was that of a mechanic informing a customer that he needs a new carburetor.

Not all persons can cope with the heavy demands of living closely with one undergoing cancer treatment, and live-in girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) turns out to be one of these, despite her initial promise to stand by Adam. Fortunately, there are plenty of others besides Kyle and Mother who render support, including two fellow members of a cancer support group, beautifully played by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer. Most meaningful, however, is Katherine (Anna Kendrick, who delighted us as George Clooney’s naïve assistant in Up in the Air), his therapist. At first their relationship as therapist-client is played for comedy. When he comments that she looks too young to be a therapist, she admits to being an intern, a candidate for her doctorate and that he is just the third patient she has dealt with. As they continue to meet, she begins to lose her detachment because of the suffering he is going through.

Adam, I observed earlier, learns what is important in life. This is often the case of those thrust into painful situations beyond their control, and who survive the ordeal. This is especially true for believers, who can testify with the apostle Paul, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Adam may not be a believer (the film does not reveal much about his religious beliefs), but his story can be seen as a parable with Paul’s affirmation being its foundation. A group of young adults, most of whom will not be put off by Kyle’s crude humor and sexual interest, could have a good time exploring the grim topic of cancer and the importance of supportive relationships.

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