Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Comedy (Sort of) About Cancer

Cancer No Laughing Matter, But is it Better to Cry?

By Skip Sheffield

Cancer is no laughing matter.
How then, does “50-50” find nuggets of humor in such a serious situation?
This is the most amazing thing about “50-50,” inspired loosely by screenwriter Will Reiser’s real-life battle with the deadly disease. Reiser was just 24 when a large, cancerous sarcoma tumor was discovered in his back. Helping him cope with this crisis was Reiser’s good friend Seth Rogen. Both Reiser and Rogen are funny guys by nature, and when this diagnosis came in 2003, they were both writers for Sacha Baron Cohen’s satirical television show “Da Ali G Show.” The germ of the idea to create a serio-comic look at cancer was born.
Seven years later the idea has come into fruition under the sensitive direction of Jonathan Levine. Likeable Joseph Gordon-Leavitt plays Will Reiser’s alter ego, Adam and Seth Rogen basically plays himself under a different name, Kyle.
At age 27 the otherwise healthy Adam is diagnosed with a cancerous sarcoma tumor in his spine. If diagnosed early enough, sarcoma is treatable with surgery, but because of the location of the tumor and the danger of the surgery, Adam is given only a 50-50 chance of survival.
A cancer diagnosis is awkward no matter how you look at it. If you are the person diagnosed, once you get over the initial shock and sorrow, a fear of the unknown sets in. You feel almost embarrassed to admit to your fragility.
For friends and family there is a tendency to over compensate with sympathy and/or total avoidance of the matter at hand.
All these things factor into Adam’s story. He undergoes the delicate surgery and his friend Kyle is grossed out when he has to change his dressing.
Adam’s girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) seems ill-equipped to deal with the seriousness of Adam’s condition.
Adam is assigned Katie (Anna Kendrick), a therapist just out of med school. Adam is only her third patient.
Adam’s mother Diane (Angelica Houston) goes into full denial mode.
It is only through a support group of fellow cancer patients that Adam gets some real understanding and tolerance.
I know none of this sounds very funny, but somehow it is. His head shaved as a consequence of chemotherapy, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is fearless and engaging. Seth Rogen, who is also producer of this film, puts his money and talent where his heart is as Kyle. Anna Kendrick is absolutely adorable as the wide-eyed, still innocent therapist.
Perhaps I am biased. It was almost eight years ago that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I opted for the radical solution of surgery. Sometimes you have to pay a steep price to keep on living. Through tears and laughter, “50-50” beautifully illustrates that process.

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