*Groan* I really didn’t want to review this film… Sure, at first, I thought “Hey, I have free passes to go see it early! I’ve been really looking forward to it!” Yeah… That’s the kiss of death, because I’m sure as any journalist worth his salt will tell you, reviewing a movie you like is incredibly difficult. It’s not just a film you can dissect to pieces, because then you won’t enjoy it as much afterward. You’ll just sit at home and watch it on DVD (because you love it so much as to own it) and comment monotonously that “the colors are subdued so as to accentuate the melancholy vibe of the film…” while your soul dies inside as you press the blade to your wrist.
That’s why I’m going to make this real easy for all of you. 50/50 is good… It’s really good. It’s so good that I’m not even going to tarnish it by dissecting every last bit of detail about the film from the music down to the cinematography. I mean, if you want an in-depth analysis, I’m sure there are dozens of sites that can oblige you… but this review is from a simple film buff who appreciates a movie that makes him feel sad and laugh his ass off at the same time. It’s like watching a nude opera.
That being said, I still have a responsibility as a Flixist journalist and to you, my fellow film buffs, to impart my honest critique of the film. Hit the jump to hear me drone on about 50/50’s indelible qualities…
Director: Jonathan Levine
Release Date: 9/30/2011
50/50 is based on the real life events of scribe Will Reiser and his experience with cancer in much the same vein as the plot of the movie. The story revolves around a young man named Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who, despite doing everything in his power to lead a healthy, balanced life, finds out that he has cancer with about a 50/50 chance of survival. His best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), tries to do his best to support him, even though he may do things that aren’t in Adam’s best interest (like trying to hook up with women using his cancer as a lure). Meanwhile, his mother (Angelika Huston) is as smothering as a typical mother should be but deeply cares for Adam. His father has either Dementia or Alzheimer’s, but the point is he’s not all there. Adam’s girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), tries to be supportive during this time, but just wasn’t prepared for any of it. Meanwhile, his therapist (Anna Kendrick) is younger than he is and hasn’t handled many cancer patients before him.
Now that Adam is faced with a possible life-or-death scenario, he’s able to reassess certain things in his life; relationships with people become transparent, his relationship with his mother becomes more emotional and his whole attitude toward life is flipped on its ear. That is essentially the setup of the story, and without delving too much into the details of the story, I can faithfully say that they’ve done a brilliant job of doing for cancer what Knocked Up did for pregnancy, except 10 times better… unlike the unfunny and discomforting Funny People.
It takes a lot of guts for a filmmaker to pull my heart strings while tickling me senseless in the same breath. The word ‘poignant’ almost comes off as cliche and hyperbolic when describing the overall execution of 50/50. I would lean further toward ‘realistic,’ yet ‘melancholy’. There’s something to be admired about how deftly the tone of the film is handled. It’s a tricky genre to handle, the Dramedy. It has to walk the fine line between drama and comedy and not come off as disjointed.
For example, when you’re watching an emotional drama, it is necessary that you empathize with the characters on-screen (The Shawshank Redemption, Awakenings and The Fisher King pull this off amazingly). As soon as the characters do something silly or stupid (and I don’t mean tell a joke or say something funny), you’re taken out of the experience. When faced with a completely comedic movie where nary an emotional moment can be found (Get Him to the Greek comes to mind), it’s easier to not be as invested in the hardships of the characters and just enjoy their antics. That’s why a dramedy is so incredibly difficult to pull off. It’s a constant struggle to keep both of those tones in check, because one minute the viewer is laughing, but the next minute you need them to be sad… and somehow, the makers have walked that tightrope with relative ease as you manage to both empathize and laugh with the characters on-screen.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam is incredible. If you weren’t a fan of Levitt’s before, this is the movie that gets you to overturn that vote. Adam is faced with an impossible obstacle in overcoming his cancer, and he comes across as brave, yet fragile. He puts up a front about his ailment, not wanting to even deal with the world or even talk about the illness. He seems quite down-to-earth about the whole situation and just wishes people would talk straight with him. He finds solace in his hospital cancer buddies because they’re as blunt and forthcoming as he is (perhaps more so).
Seth Rogen’s Kyle is one of the many wonderful things to enjoy about this film. Rogen’s usual comedic stylings are in full force here, yet the personality of Kyle’s character takes on a decidedly more complex persona as he deals with Adam’s cancer while still remaining, essentially, a man-child. In his own way, he handles Adam’s cancer the most maturely out of anyone; Adam goes through ups and downs, his mother babies him at every turn, his girlfriend handles things in completely the wrong way and his therapist can barely keep it together. Kyle is the only constant thing in his life and perhaps the very thing that keeps him going. Not to mention the fact that Kyle exemplifies every guy’s dream for a best friend; He is simultaneously a wingman, father figure, brother and, better yet, he actually gives a shit about Adam.
In order to do this review any justice, I must discuss Anna Kendrick as Katie, Adam’s therapist. Without spoiling her story too much, I must say I appreciate the authenticity she brings to the character. There’s a certain irresistible charm to her that is hard to ignore, despite her cold exterior and desire to seem professional (no doubt channeling her role from Up in the Air). Up until this point, we are able to empathize solely with Adam’s character, since he’s the one with cancer, but when Katie enters his life, things become more complicated. While she tries to act as professional as a veteran therapist, it’s clear that she is still very much in training. She doesn’t have vast experience handling cancer patients, so it’s incredibly easy to identify with her character. Watching the chemistry between the two is interesting, not just due to a clash in perspectives, but because they’re both trying to ignore the fact that they’re attracted to each other.
There are incredibly emotional scenes in 50/50 that go beyond that of a simple, formulaic comedy. There is a certain scene, for instance, where there’s an exchange of love so pure between two characters that is simultaneously crushing at the same time. The film tries to remind us that we’re all human and, thus, mortal. Everyone will die eventually, and even if they’re not dead, a part of them can die and leave nothing but a shell that is just as hard to overcome. What the film tells in one breath of our mortal existence, it also shows us that all of it is worth suffering through for the tiniest bit of happiness… and in the end, that’s a message worth conveying.
50/50 does the impossible in blending comedy and drama, while doing it in such a way that it’s seamless and incredibly entertaining… And that’s all I feel needs to be said. Maybe if it were a crappy film, I might have more to say… but it isn’t. In a sea of crappy films this year, 50/50 is one of the best films of 2011 and one of the best dram-coms I’ve ever seen (coining that now)… So there it is. I’ve done you all the service you deserve at the risk of my own soul. Hopefully I’ll still be able to enjoy this film after this review is dead and buried, you cretins. Now go out and watch the damn movie.
Sam Membrino: 50/50 is that rare blend of comedy and drama that proves to be surprisingly good at both. Where Funny People failed, 50/50 succeeds, in part because it’s a true story, and in part because the film’s third act is the polar opposite of People, (i.e.: exceptional). Anna Kendrick convincingly portrays a rookie shrink tentatively learning how to deal with her own psyche while tasked to deal with other’s struggles. And fans of Seth Rogen won’t be disappointed either; he is up to his usual shenanigans as JGL’s best friend trying in his own way to make the horrifying situation a little more bearable. But the star here is Gordon-Levitt, who steals the show in a way few young actors these days can. For anyone who thinks Justin Timberlake or Shia La Beef is a passable actor, JGL is here to set the record straight. On a side note, it’s a shame the trailers misrepresent this movie so badly; it’s a real gem that soars head and shoulders above most Apatowian fare. And for the record, yes, I did cry. And I never do that. Score: 88 – Spectacular
Alec Kubas-Meyer: There are two things overtly wrong with 50/50: 1) Joseph Gordon-Levitt somehow retains his eyebrows (and weight) throughout his treatment, and 2) there is a scene where a car horn should go off but doesn’t. Aside from that, the film is pretty much spot-on. The word “Dramedy” has always bothered me, but it is the best way to describe this film. I never out-and-out cried, but the film definitely has moments where it pulls at your heartstrings and others where it’s uproariously funny. JGL gives an incredible performance, Seth Rogen plays the most honest iteration of his one character that I’ve seen, and Anna Kendrick’s teeth are distractingly white and she refuses to shut her mouth. She does a fine job, but I had trouble paying attention. In all seriousness, though, this is an amazing movie. It’s got great comedy, great drama, and great acting. It’s, well… 83 – Great.