50/50

Director: Jonathan Levine

Notable Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston

Rating: R

Review:  A comedy about cancer.  I know.  How?  The line about to be teetered on is around as thin as fishing wire.  But listen to me when I say, 50/50 is inarguably one of the only MUST SEE films of 2011.  There’s a reason so much love and care was put into the script too, which makes this film even more enticing.  Writer Will Reiser based the idea on his own battle with cancer years back when he and Rogen were working on “Da Ali G Show”, adding a visible personal touch.  The way 50/50 deals with such a drastic situation in both a highly comedic manner and an emotionally jarring slap to the face will have you crying both from laughter and heartache.  This is one of those films that dives right into your core and has the power to change your outlook on certain aspects of life.  The gusto it takes to find a well-balanced script out of this tragic mess is a testimony to Will Reiser and his story of how people deal with pain and grief.

So, our protagonist Adam (Gordon-Levitt) is your typical everyday guy.  He works as a radio programmer with his wild single friend Kyle (Rogen), dates his artist girlfriend Rachel (Dallas-Howard), and lives every day the same.  Adam never drinks, smokes, or does anything wrong.  But after back pains start to cloud his mood, Adam decides to visit the doctor.  At this point our healthy, law-abiding, mild-mannered friend hears the one word every person in the world dreads: cancer.  Adam is told he has a tumor growing up his spine and after some research learns he’s a 50/50 shot to even live. With the help of hospital psychiatrist Katherine (Kendrick) and those closest to him, Adam must battle both physical and emotional pains in order to beat the odds in this life changing story.  How would you react if there was as much of a chance that you wouldn’t wake up as there was you’d see the next sunrise?

Looks like an alien, still adorable…

50/50 embraces the aspect so many filmmakers/producers alike try to avoid in the industry: the risk in offending one’s audience.  Look at Fanboys as the perfect example.  The story was supposed to center more strongly on the fact that a goofy group of nerds were trying to get an early peek at Star Wars: Episode I for their other friend who was diagnosed with cancer.  The heart and soul of the script existed in the great lengths friends would go for each other.  But producers flipped when the story was perceived to be too emotional (in their eyes) and called for re-writes that turned the heat down on the touchy cancer subject.  End result: a bland story exploiting nerdism with minimal laughs.  Thank God The Wackness director Jonathan Levine brings to life Will Reiser’s in-depth script, showing that no matter how dark the material, a film can still be pulled off when written so beautifully.  In no way is 50/50 some bum out film that tries to exploit cheap emotional tugs, which is the main fear that causes these topics to be avoided.  No, this script is a picturesque work of art that incorporates gut-busting comedy into Adam’s hardship filled journey.  It’s easy to feel bad for a character diagnosed with cancer, well, just because.  Cleverly, Reiser’s script has enough first hand know-how to highlight even the smallest of issues, which makes the script feel much more authentic.  This process is followed every step of the way, not only when addressing Adam and his ailments.  50/50 is just as much about Adam as it is about how the people closest to him are affected by the drama.  Things we could never imagine dealing with are common place in 50/50, but the story is too well voiced to even notice.

Complimenting Reiser’s story, the cast is dynamite for 50/50, with Gordon-Levitt leading the charge.  Easily one of the best performances of the year, I’m so happy Gordon-Levitt was given this chance after James McAvoy dropped the role.  Every possible emotion pours out of Adam as Gordon-Levitt fully grasps the morbid realization of the situation.  He uses a perfect blend of helplessness, numbed emotions, denial, self-pity, and masked fear to create Adam’s cocktail of sorrow.  On the flip side though, JGL brings out a steadfast normality that shows how he refuses to let the cancer completely dominate his life and finds inspiration in the people suffering with him.  Gordon-Levitt brings so much depth to the character of Adam and gives an intense realistic depiction of a cancer patient.  As for Seth Rogen, he basically gets to play himself, as he went through this exact situation with Will.  Rogen is in fact the crass best friend just trying to cheer his adored compadre up by trying not to act any differently.  The douchebag with a heart of gold persona fits Rogen perfectly, as it’s expectedly tough to react properly when a friend tells you he has cancer.  The relationship between the two exhibits a ton of chemistry, as they cover both the depressing realizations and funny buddy comedy schtick with ease.

In what is an obvious statement by this point, 50/50 is nothing short of phenomenal.  I haven’t been choked up in the theater for years, but I was honestly on the verge of tears thanks to Gordon-Levitt’s breathtaking acting.  Words cannot describe the emotional outpouring from the script, a mixed bag filled with both positive and negative emotions.  And as I preach about so many films lacking extra zest, 50/50 has heart for miles and miles.  The script comes from the unique point of view of a cancer survivor himself, so what better way to really get a first-hand experience.  I can’t imagine having to act out the hurricane of feelings whipping about the mind of a cancer patient, in front of a survivor himself.  No matter how hard he tries, JGL will never know exactly how Reiser felt in that horrid time, but it’s obvious Gordon-Levitt threw every ounce of his being into understanding fully the mental state, just to do justice for the massive amount of people actually living out this movie’s gripping situation.  So much love and respect goes out to those affected by any type of cancer, right from me.   Not to sound clichéd but you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll appreciate even the dullest of days with this first-hand look into one of the hardest struggles man has to face.

Final Rating: 9.5 pot filled macaroons out of 10

Thinking how to feel would be hard enough, but could you even put it to words?

-Natobomb

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About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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One Response to 50/50

  1. Pingback: 2011: Recap of the Good, the Bad, and Everything Else | Cinema Scrutiny

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