50/50

27 Oct

Title: 50/50
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jonathan Levine
Writer: Will Reiser
Starring: 
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston
MPAA Rating: 
R, language throughout, sexual content and some drug use
Runtime: 
100 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 
93%

 

50/50 is a film that tackles rather difficult territory, because it tries to make a comedy out of one of life’s unfunniest subject matters: cancer. And yet upon watching it, this is a film that quickly stood out for me as one of the year’s finest, because it never once downplayed the severity of the condition it was presenting, giving some really heartfelt dramatic moments in the midst of the more comedic elements that were in it. I was just really pleasantly surprised that a film managed to find a way to balance out these elements so perfectly, as Will Reiser, encouraged by his real-life best friend Seth Rogen, wrote a screenplay based on his own experiences as a young man diagnosed with cancer, and gave it over to director Jonathan Levine, coming from 2008’s very good The Wackness, who directed Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the role based on Mr. Reiser and Seth Rogen on the role based on, well, Seth Rogen, and those two give just incredible performances.

And seriously, it all falls on those two main performances, if the approach to their own characters or their chemistry with one another had been off by even the slightest measure then this film would have fallen apart, but Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Mr. Rogen are a dream team, and their supporting players, which include the lovely Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard, add a lot to the wonderful film that is 50/50, one that seemingly knows it’s walking a kind of tightrope because of the subjects it’s tackling, but that does so with utmost confidence, never once doubting itself or the strength of the sum of its parts. And that’s good because, again, this is some serious stuff we’re dealing with here, the title of the film referring to the odds of survival given to a young man in his twenties who’s battling a dangerous and rare kind of spinal cancer.

The road this movie takes is dictated by the conversation the guy that’s been diagnosed, Adam, has with his best friend, Kyle, when he tells him the bad news. That’s the scene that you’ve seen in all the trailers and clips for this movie, in which Kyle, played by Mr. Rogen in a career-best performance, states that those would be the best odds if Adam were a casino game. And that sets the tone for the whole film, a tone that makes jokes about a serious subject, true, but the jokes are a way to reflect really deep things, people who really only want to cry in despair and terror of the unknown future, but who resort to try and say something funny to cheer their friends up, many times the jokes in this movie come off more as touchingly funny than plain-out comedy. And it’s awesome that 50/50 really does pay attention to the people like Kyle, those who are around Adam and who try to figure out how to behave in front of such a terrible illness while Adam himself is battling with the prospect of maybe having to leave this Earth earlier than he intended to. That fact that this cast and crew managed to find something really funny in all of that is just tremendous.

I guess it ultimately was so perfectly balanced between the serious and the funny because it actually happened, Mr. Reiser actually was diagnosed with a spinal tumor and Mr. Rogen was actually his close friend trying to live the diagnosis through with him and desperately trying to help his friend see the light side of things, like any good funny man would. And the people involved, again, are just a wonder to watch, you have Bryce Dallas Howard who’s just brilliant as Adam’s girlfriend who knows she has to be supportive and knows what to say, but a part of her somehow can’t stand someone losing their hair and puking, and she can’t help her words coming out a bit insincere showing that she wasn’t quite as committed to the relationship to begin with, and there’s also the always great Anjelic Huston as Diane, Adam’s mother, who frantically tries to get her son to drink some green tea because it reduces the risk of getting cancer, to which Adam replies “I already have cancer.” That’s the sort of feeling that radiates through the entirety of this film, a perfectly structured comedy but that is underlined with some heavy feelings and some heavy truths.

And then there’s Anna Kendrick. And even though the scenes between Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Mr. Rogen are awesome to watch and their chemistry is amazing, it’s the scenes between Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Ms. Kendrick that really elevated this film for me. I’ve loved Ms. Kendrick since I saw her star-making and Oscar-nominated performance in Up in the Air two years ago (which was by a mile my favorite film of all 2009), and I loved her last year in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which was my eighth favorite film of 2010), and I love her again here, as she plays Katherine, Adam’s therapist. She’s a really inexperienced therapist, it must be said, as Adam is only her third patient ever, and you can see her as though she was reading from a script, desperate to be liked, to prove helpful to her patients, even to the point in which she starts caring too much and not observing from a distance like all good therapists are supposed to. She’s wonderful here, and the complicated feeling that develop between her and Adam were one of my favorite parts of the whole movie.

If people tell you that 50/50 is a “comedy about cancer” please don’t automatically discard it. Because, while it is actually that, it’s not your typical film that will try and manipulate tears from your eyes only to then give some sort of inspirational message, this film is a really unique one, one that doesn’t bullshit you at all and that manages to be really hilarious and incredibly touching at the same time, which is quite the achievement these days. And yes, some parts of it are structured a bit too much like a sitcom, but that’s fine because at least you have actors that generate some real affection, and it’s fine most of all because by the final act of the movie, Mr. Levine and his cast have so carefully established their characters that they can break free from some of the pre-established genre conventions. And that’s why the final part of this movie is so great, because it isn’t afraid of showing depth, of showing characters that aren’t constrained by boundaries, the film starts making it’s own rules, never once being controlled by the pain of the situation it’s presenting, but always feeling like work that came out of true love.

Grade: A

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