I have a problem, you guys. I’m afraid that if I’m completely honest with you about how much I liked 50/50, you won’t respect me anymore. It tickled me right in the sentimental parts I don’t like to talk about at parties, and now those parts are all moist, and I’m afraid if I tell you about them that it would just be gross. But here goes.
We can call it a “cancer comedy” if it makes you feel better, but the dirty little secret of 50/50 is that it’s kind of a rom-com. And my dirty little secret is that I kind of really like rom-coms (the ones that are good, that people don’t normally think of as rom-coms). But that’s what it is. A contemporary story about love, relationships, friends, and family, that also happens to be pretty funny a lot of the time. Oh, and also cancer, but we’ll get to that.
Written by Will Reiser and directed by Jonathan Levine of The Wackness, 50/50 is a personal story based on Reiser’s real-life diagnosis with cancer when he was in his late twenties, and how he and his friends, like Seth Rogen, dealt with it (the “50/50” of the title refers to what he was told his chances of survival were). Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, the fictionalized Reiser; Rogen plays Kyle, the fictionalized Rogen. (It must suck for Rogen that he lost all that weight and JGL still gets to play the cancer patient, but between this and Funny People, he has “guy whose friend has cancer” on lock.)
Anyway, Adam and Kyle both work at NPR, and their first scene together gets the film off to a rocky start. They’re discussing Adam’s girlfriend, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who he hasn’t slept with for three weeks. Schlubby, slobby Kyle thinks this is a problem, while fussy, dainty Adam convinces himself that it’s okay because “their relationship is based on more than sex.” The scene doesn’t work for the exact reason the rest of the film does work: they’re playing archetypes (also, we’ve seen that scene like a billion times before). Characters that are types instead of people are the reason I never liked Entourage, and why every conversation in Sex in the City is a variation on the same thing.
MIRANDA: Carrie, you should tell that jerk to piss off because feminism!
SAMANTHA: No way, Carrie, you should screw him because sex is empowering.
CHARLOTTE: Ooh, I don’t know you guys, I’m repressed and old fashioned, vagina wax makes me cry.
Bumpa da bumpa da bump. But after the first scene, Rogen and JGL quickly settle into a relationship where they relate to each other in a way that’s recognizable to other late 20-something males, and that alone is incredibly refreshing. I’m sure it helps that Reiser is working through his own ordeal here and not trying to write exposition for a story about vampires, aliens, and the military, but the point is, the characters feel like people. Thus, it’s a lot easier to care about them.