Evidencing with a heartfelt sincerity the value of friendship and family, 50/50, directed fitfully by Jonathan Levine, is the comedy come border-line melodrama of 27-year-old Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and his revelation that he has cancer. Adam is a good guy; he's athletic, dedicated to perfection in his under-appreciated job at a public radio station; he even recycles. None of these are, however, the defence he expected them to be against a diagnosis of a cancer in his spine that has more syllables than sufferers, and is delivered coldly by an eye-averting, monotonous lab-coat. His 'artist' girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), looking like an attractive version of Marilyn Manson with metallic amber hair offsetting vanilla-blue eyes; and Kyle (a good, but as per usual maddeningly self-narrating Seth Rogen) form the initial pillars upon which Adam relies. He is also remanded into the hands of Katie (Anna Kendrick), a psychologist whose inexperience and youth is supported only by a textbook smile and genuine desire to help. Rachael's support, as we come to expect, joins her fleeting affections, leaving Adam more fully to the devices of Kyle, who in the innocent crudeness of Rogan's perpetual bromantic character-type, uses his friend's illness to score girls for both of them. As Adam starts Chemotherapy, the rest of the film's population surfaces in the form of fellow patients, benevolent Mitch (Matt Frewer) and crass but loveable Alan (Philip Baker Hall). When his relations shift like tectonic plates, with Katie insinuating herself further into his life and Kyle's friendship having to develop in a manner completely foreign to him, Adam slowly navigates the five stages of grief as his condition deteriorates.
The fact that this synopsis reads more like a character-summary is telling of the film's impressive humanity. Based on the true story of, and written by Will Reiser, it's clear that both he and Levine wanted Adam to be the bastion of modern middle-youth: one made important by his lack of status (early in the film a large Anti-Hero sign backgrounds a shot of Adam), and one who is always vaguely in the know, as he treats every opposition with a distant incredulity, as if asking, 'Is anyone else seeing this?' It's the insistence that compared to the protagonist, everyone else is at least a little oblivious, which is a sentiment echoed, if not always as subtly, in recent pop-culture. This negotiation of self-doubt and self-assurance in the lead is almost always heightened by a certain myopia of the supporting cast, and 50/50 is no exception. Katie, by virtue of a childish screen-saver and her missing a Doogie Howser reference, and Kyle who's more in common with a baby weaned on South Park than a functioning adult, exist in part to solidify Adam as a hapless sufferer of the kind-hearted, but slightly silly people around him. Katie is emblematic of this condition when at her first consultation with Adam, she stutters 'I want you to t-trust me." As always, though, it is in his darkest moments that Kyle and Katie shine, and leave Adam, and the viewer, feeling a little guilty for our condescension. It's an old ploy, but one done so well in 50/50 that is leaves little trace of the author's hand.
It is when the film turns from its happy-go-lucky humour, stoked by Rogen's zesty ad-libbing, to the weighty, even melodramatic confrontations with the illness, that it is clear how affecting these lives have become. Kyle's insistent and reckless friendship, Katie's club-footed negotiation of her patient/friend relationship with Adam, and the suffocating worry of his mom, Diane (a proud Angelica Huston), all work to conjure a relational power that far surpasses the film's narrative value. Though these relationships lapse into the overwrought at times, their tenderness is still just as touching. It's with hindsight that 50/50 garners some of its enormity - the story is undoubtedly a synecdoche of a fear and situation all-too-common to popular conscience. Whilst this may sound a little gloomy, the film navigates the despair of the situation with wit and hope, marking it as a genuinely impressive film.