Anna Kendrick and Joseph Gordon-levitt team up in about a man stricken with cancer.
YOU do it by instinct. Somebody tells you something awful that’s happened to them, and you reach out to comfort that person. A hand on the shoulder, a hug, even. But in some situations, that’s a no-no.
Anna Kendrick learned this when she and Joseph Gordon-Levitt teamed up for 50/50. It’s a comedy-drama about a young man who has discovered he has cancer. The film’s title reveals his odds for survival. Kendrick plays the too-young counsellor whose job is to help him adjust to the emotional roller coaster that accompanies a life-or-death struggle.
Kendrick, 26, studied with a therapist who is not much older than she is, “who told me all of the mistakes she made when she started out. I got a crash course in what not to do, and Katherine (her character), of course, does all of those things.”
“Countertransference” is the big one. A psychotherapist should not develop emotional entanglements with a client. But another one is that human touch.
“It’s simple compassion,” Kendrick says. “It’s a genuine, real urge we have. But they train you not to do that. Katherine forgets. That’s my favourite part of the script, this awkward touching she does to comfort him. ... It’s just not necessary. If you’re good at this sort of counselling, you can do it without being touchy-feely.”
Gordon-Levitt, 30, appreciates the comic brittleness of those therapy scenes. “You have all sorts of conventions in play. This is supposed to be a comedy, so she could be the love interest,” he says. “But we avoided the pitfalls and stereotypes, I think, because we weren’t intent on making that relationship fit into those boxes. We wanted it to feel honest and awkward.
“We as a culture have a tendency to tiptoe around subjects like this. You don’t know what to say. You don’t know if it’s okay to laugh if something’s funny. You don’t know if it’s okay to smile, even. ‘ This is a serious thing. I should be sad all the time around him.’”
The comic Will Reiser scripted 50/50, which is based on his own battle with cancer and the awkwardness he encountered, from professionals (like Kendrick’s character) and his best friend, played by Reiser’s real-life pal Seth Rogen.
The dramedy earned good reviews in the United States, with Box Office Magazine noting the importance of those therapy moments, calling it “a soft and sweet cancer drama that hits with the force of an ill-timed hug.”
It’s not every film role that has the potential to be life-changing, but the stars of 50/50 know that sooner or later they will be dealing with the dilemmas that their characters face in both serious and in comical ways in the movie.
“People our age often haven’t dealt with this before, and all they can say is: ‘ I’m just trying my best. I know it’s not working,’” Kendrick says. “While we were making the film, I hadn’t dealt with this subject in real life at all. But my uncle passed away recently from cancer. I thought back to what Will (Reiser) said about Adam’s desire to be treated like a normal human being. People forgot how to act around my uncle. They didn’t know what to say. They felt like they had to say something profound, or give some advice. I made my mind up that I would treat my uncle the same way I always had.”
Gordon-Levitt says he lost a friend to cancer when he was much younger, a friend “who has a little subtle tribute in the film’s credits.” But he found Reiser’s script to have more than a few life lessons that he has absorbed.
“One of my takeaways from 50/50 is that it is okay to laugh. When something is funny, it’s okay to acknowledge it. Will and Seth coped by finding humour in the situation, making jokes. And that’s got to be healthy, if ‘laughter is the best medicine’.
“But the main thing for me, spending all this time thinking about what it would be like facing an illness that you have a 50% percent chance of surviving, I came away grateful. Every day you’re alive is a lovely thing, worth saying thank you for.” – The Orlando Sentinel/ McClatchy-Tribune Information Services n The film 50/50 is tentatively scheduled to open in Malaysia come Nov 24.