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Independent Pick: 50/50

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Movies about cancer have a bad reputation. It’s an incredibly difficult subject to tackle, and past cinematic efforts have led to the preconceived notion that any such movie will naturally be maudlin and downbeat. Rare is the film project that handles the topic in a realistic and measured way, using an effective balance of humor and drama to explore the theme – unless you’re talking about 50/50.

Written by Will Reiser, and based loosely upon his own experience of surviving cancer at a young age, the film comes from producing team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, with Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) directing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam, a 27-year-old journalist who discovers he has a malignant tumor on his spine. Emotionally abandoned by his self-involved artist girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), and struggling to deal with his concerned mother (played by Anjelica Huston), he commences chemotherapy, supported by his best friend Kyle (played by Seth Rogen). To help him cope with his situation, Adam reluctantly attends therapy sessions with a particularly inexperienced therapist (played by Anna Kendrick). Over time, they develop a deeper bond, as she helps him come to terms with his diagnosis and prognosis.

The thing that elevates 50/50 above and beyond any of the ‘cancer movies’ we’ve seen before is the realism with which the characters are handled, and with which events unfold. Everybody is working hard to keep their fears and emotions contained. There is a bare minimum of wailing and no pounding of fists. This is a film about people dealing with something deeply tragic, in the way that real people tend to – with comedy and trepidation. At the same time, there is a romantic element threaded throughout the piece which is handled in the same way, making it equally refreshing and moving.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the real revelation here. Many of his scenes – both lively and dramatic – stay with the audience long after the end credits roll. The interplay between his character and those of Huston, Rogen and Kendrick is consistently well written, and even better performed. While it is quietly heartbreaking, 50/50 is ultimately an uplifting and positive viewing experience – and one that should be the gold standard for film projects of this type. Leave all preconceived notions of ‘cancer movies’ behind, and give 50/50 a solid chance. It comes highly recommended.