Article Title
Article Title

50/50

by Jake Mynatt

Catch up on the series here.

When you're confronted with someone who needs to be cared for, there's an unspoken "with me or against me" ultimatum that helps clarify your role in their life. For most relationships, “til death do us part” is not an automatic part of the agreement, and this is the bittersweet test to which our bonds are put to the test.

A few months ago, Gary would not have urinated on Edgar if he were on fire in the middle of the living room. But with Penelope's ascension from bitterly hated ex to live in girlfriend, Edgar's placement in Gary's priorities had received a boost. So when he was brought home from jail strapped to a gurney with a complex series of lifts and pulleys which regulated his every movement, Gary found himself looking down both barrels of a very costly test of his resolve.

Edgar had been in county jail following an ill-fated drunk driving excursion. Among the prison population, his naturally abrasive nature did little to secure his safety. While witnessing a racially charged gang incident he had decided to diffuse the situation by reciting line-for-line a certain (NSFW) Chris Rock routine which he had memorized. Somehow this rubbed the gangs the wrong way, especially when prefaced with “I’m just a good ol’ boy but I think Chris Rock had it right when he said….”

On the bright side, the Crips and Bloods had put aside decades of feuding to deliver Edgar a unified beating. Even the Aryans got a few licks in as they faced embarrassment at the idea that Edgar somehow represented them. Those guys are all about the hate, but they don’t want you to be an asshole about it.

Due to the cost of constant care and the little time remaining in his sentence, Edgar was released early. With most of his bodily functions tended to and a heaping dose of painkillers administered, Gary and Penelope sat down for an evening of movie watching laced with the ever-present aroma of silent contempt and popped in 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 27-year-old man who is far too cautious for his age. We meet him as he’s jogging. When he comes to a cross-walk flashing “don’t walk” he waits, following the rules, even though there is not a car in sight. A fellow jogger blows right through the sign unharmed, but Adam still waits for the light to change. When a nagging ache in his back brings him to the doctor, he discovers that he has a potentially deadly form of spinal cancer.

Edgar, looping in and out in a medicated haze, was not initially impressed by the film. He cried out “Bed pan!” which was Gary’s cue to begin the process of hoisting Edgar onto his metal perch. As Edgar struggled and grunted before finally slurring “false alarm”, I was taken by the film’s ability to mix moments of touching sincerity with a crass comic sensibility. It’s in the character Kyle, played by Seth Rogan (whose experience with the film’s real-life writer was the basis of the story)  the film splits for me.

In one sense, this is a very touching film filled with truth and emotion that never feels contrived simply for plot. Adam is a man who should not get cancer and has even refused to learn how to drive lest he put himself in mortal danger. Tragic irony well played. And the earnestness, which admittedly caused in me multiple instances of welling tears, was cut nicely by Rogan’s character like a beer chaser after a shot of harsh whiskey.

On the other hand, I can’t see this film being revisited in twenty years and Rogan’s character being taken in the same “awesome best friend” light. That’s not to say that there isn’t redemption for him within the movie. There is a quiet scene later in the story that shows the real love he has for his friend, and accomplishes it in spades. There’s just a comic wackiness that I found comforting and yet somehow out of place. But without it this film could very well have become the next “Brian’s Song”.

While Rogan’s character proves to be a solid beam in Adam’s support structure, his girlfriend Rachael played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is certainly less so. When the film starts they are in a tenuous relationship, with her level of commitment questionable from the moment we meet her as she debates staying the night with Adam. When he reveals his cancer to her and offers her the chance to leave him before it gets bad, she volunteers to stay with him more out of politeness than of genuine concern. She’s not presented as an evil person; she’s just not equipped to care for someone else.

As Gary spoon-fed Edgar baby food (since he would not be able to digest solid food for at least a month), Adam’s search for acceptance of his condition leads him to young therapist Katherine, played by Anna Kendrick. Her character is a stark contrast to the cold and self-centered girlfriend. She’s new at the job, and not particularly good at it, but her awkwardness is charming, if a bit over-the-top. The film wisely avoids making the Adam/Katherine relationship the focus of the film.

This is not a story about disease eating away at a man. It's about the human relationships that form around that which binds us all: mortality. Faced with the prospect of dying young, Adam realizes all that he has avoided in his pursuit of cautious living. As his repressed facade full of unconvincing “I’m Fine” responses gave way to a terrifying outburst of emotion, even Edgar began to feel things that would normally have produced tears had his tear ducts not been ruptured by a sock full of ball bearings.

50/50 is a film about acceptance. As much comfort as acceptance provides, it does not undo the fact that This Is Not How It Should Have Been, and we grieve for the old life that was wiped out in an instant.

To his credit, Gary had accepted this new role in caring for Penelope's brother with surprisingly little resistance. She looked at him fondly as the movie ended, each with a half-smile working it's way through their sullen masks. The rare silence removed the thick layer of tension that normally hung in the air like a chemical spill.

“I love you, munchkin.” He whispered.

“Oh, okay.” She responded, shifting uncomfortably. “Do we have any Cool Ranch Doritos?”

And Gary turned back to the television without saying a word.

There's that tension again. Welcome back, old friend.

Jake Mynatt is a writer as Charles Manson is a singer/songwriter. By trade, he's a computer guy. He's married, and loving it so much he hopes to start dozens of secret families all over the country. That's just a joke, unless you're interested. Send headshots and a signed pre-nup to jake.mynatt [at] theinclusive.net