It shouldn’t come as news that cancer is serious business. Though several decades and untold billions of dollars in research have greatly increased the chances of survival, it still kills people every single day. I know someone dying from cancer and if you don’t already, you probably will later on. So how can one make that funny?
Humor is one of the best ways we have to cope with sadness and tragedy, and I’ve heard it said that a great comic can make anything funny. But the subject of cancer is a challenge. The approach needs that perfect and elusive combination of levity and empathy, enough to be funny without being insensitive. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but that hasn’t stopped countless people from trying, with varying degrees of success. The more recent attempts include Funny People, that recent Judd Apatow flop; “The Big C,” a Showtime TV series still on the air; and of course, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
The latest comedian to try his hand at this subject is Will Reiser, formerly a producer on “Da Ali G Show” and an actual cancer survivor. Joining him is Jonathan Levine, director of an acclaimed indie marijuana film called The Wackness that I sadly missed out on when it came to Portland. Together, they’ve made a movie called 50/50.
Let’s take a good look at that cast.
First and foremost, there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Ten years ago, I would never have guessed that any starring cast member of “3rd Rock from the Sun” would be an Oscar contender, yet here we are. His inexplicable turn as Cobra Commander aside, JGL has been doing a great job of choosing his roles ever since (500) Days of Summer. It certainly helps that he’s made friends with Christopher Nolan, who gave him a great role in Inception and has another one lined up for him in The Dark Knight Rises. Also, he’s been cast as Robert Todd Lincoln in Spielberg’s long-gestating biopic of the 16th president.
This guy is going places, and he’s shown a lot of talent in drama and in comedy. Based on this trailer, it really does look like he has the chops to make this role sympathetic and funny. It’s also interesting to note that JGL is a younger actor. The majority of cancer stories seem to focus on older patients, so getting the perspective of a younger man still in the prime of his life could be an interesting and fresh approach.
Then there’s the matter of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The two have collaborated on several projects (The Green Hornet, Superbad, the aforementioned Funny People) and Goldberg was a writer on “Da Ali G Show.” Given their connection to Will Reiser, and since they’re both listed as producers on this project, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Reiser appealed to these two friends of his so they could throw their weight behind this movie and get it made.
I’m tempted to consider this as a bad sign, considering how The Green Hornet turned out, but I think it helps a lot that Rogen and Goldberg aren’t in the driver’s seat this time. Rogen still seems to be playing the same shlub he always does, but it works here. For whatever reason, he and JGL seem to work nicely off each other. Plus, it helps that Rogen has to share the screen with so many other talented actors.
This film also has Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard, both lovely and talented actresses. Throw in Anjelica Huston and accomplished character actor Philip Baker Hall and you’ve got quite a cast. Also, behind the camera, the score is being composed by Michael friggin’ Giacchino.
Based on this trailer, it looks like 50/50 is going to be a very humorous and well-made film with a lot of heart. I expect that there will be quite a bit of Oscar buzz when it comes out on September 30th.