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It takes a pair to beat the odds 

Year: 2011 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: Unknown 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Jonathan Levine 
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard  
An image from 50/50

Adam Lerner (Jason Gordon-Levitt) has just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. An unlikely topic for comedy, you might think (although The Big C has received a warm reception this side of the Atlantic). Given that he’s only 27, never smoked, and has a healthy lifestyle, Adam has a hard time believing this.

50/50 takes the audience on an incredible journey through all the highs and lows after receiving the diagnosis. Adam’s family and friends are most supportive about the situation; however, his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, Lady in the Water; The Help) has trouble dealing with the news, so breaks up with him instead. Things seem to be going downhill until he meets Katie (Anna Kendrick, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World; Up in the Air), a post-doctoral student at the cancer centre. As she helps him begin to cope with the emotional impact of having cancer, they grow closer together and become more than just friends.

50/50 is a bitter-sweet comedy not dissimilar in tone to 500 Days of Summer. Adam oscillates through anger, self-pity and apathy, and eventually towards his acceptance. There are some very touching moments but they are never lingered upon so long as to make the film either saccharine or morose.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt performs to his usual high standards; while Seth Rogen (Adam’s friend Kyle) is on fine form. His high energy, ribald and occasionally somewhat juvenile antics help remind Adam what’s really important in life... Inspired by a true story, 50/50 will make you both laugh and cry. Definitely one to watch!

Natalie Tyldesley

Not many films about cancer could be described as a comedy, and while 50/50 walks a delicate tightrope between humour and pathos, there are more than enough funny moments to raise the bar of feel-good comedies.

Based on true events, Adam (Gordon-Levitt) is a young man in his mid-twenties humming along smoothly in life as a writer for public radio when he is shattered by the news that he has spinal cancer. Given a 50/50 chance of survival, he turns to his friends and loved ones for support with varying results; his girlfriend (Dallas Howard) is next to useless, whilst his mother (Houston) is perhaps too useful, moving into his home with all the suffocating love of any devoted parent. It is with his best friend Kyle (Rogen) and other sufferers that Adam is able to both be himself and cope with becoming someone entirely new in the face of a possibly fatal disease.

50/50 manages to dodge many of the more mawkish elements of films about illness, having a more blunt sensibility that lends itself to realism as opposed to overly sentimental optimism, or worse, complete pessimism. There are quite rightly ups and downs, sometimes in the same scene, but neither the laughs nor the tears feel forced or overplayed.

The biggest draw is the film’s male leads, who play to the strengths of the buddy-comedy formula without resorting to clichés or tired gross-out gags (that isn’t say it’s all clean fun mind you). Gordon Levitt is understated and believable as Adam, whilst Rogen is typically funny as his upbeat best friend. Houston, however, is a powerhouse of emotions as Adam’s devastated mother (her husband is simultaneously suffering from Alzheimer’s).

When 50/50’s good, it’s really good. It offers a funny but frank look at a senseless and violent disease that never softens the blow for the audience. One way or another, laughing or crying, 50/50 will get you.

Luke Woellhaf

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Screenings of this film:

2011/2012 Spring Term (35mm)