50/50 Review

“That’s what everyone has been telling me since the beginning. ‘Oh, you’re gonna be okay,’ and ‘Oh, everything’s fine,’ and like, it’s not… It makes it worse… that no one will just come out and say it. Like, ‘hey man, you’re gonna die.'” 

-Adam

50/50 was a movie I had heard some great buzz about earlier this year, but due to a busy schedule and a still growing list of things to see I was unable to see it while in theaters. Now that the movie has hit home video I was finally able to catch this low key dramedy starring one of my favorite young actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt(Inception, 500 Days of Summer). The premise of the movie certainly sounds dark and depressing as the movie is essentially about a man as he comes to terms that he will die because of spinal cancer. The premise may be sad, but the writers and director Jonathan Levine decide to try and give this very sad story a comedic spin. Does 50/50 take this clash of genre and story and make it something innovative and interesting, or are comedy and impending death better left separate?

The movie begins by introducing us to Adam Lerner(Levitt)  who is very happy in his everyday life as a journalist with his best friend Kyle(Seth Rogen) whom he spends a lot of time with, and his girlfriend Rachael(Bryce Dallas Howard) who he lives with. They are the most supportive people in his life. After going in for a routine appointment, Adam discovers that he has a rare tumor that essentially narrows his chances at living down to 50/50. Adam then has to go through the process of notifying not only his closest friends, but also his parents who he has felt very distant toward in recent years. After much debate, Rachael promises to take care of Adam as he goes through his chemotherapy treatments. Kyle, who tries to remain optimistic, protests this, but with no other option Adam begins the therapy. After going to chemotherapy Adam also begins visiting another therapist to help him with the psychological side of the treatment. It turns out that he gets a very young and inexperienced therapist named Katherine(Anna Kendrick) who does her best to walk Adam through his troubles. From this point on the story is pretty straight forward as the movie is essentially doing a character study of what it is like to be a very young person who was just diagnosed with cancer. The movie is very much about Adam’s journey to acceptance as well as how this diagnosis affects the people closest to him.

As I mentioned earlier, the movie is a dramedy, so it has the tricky task of striking a balance between funny and dramatic and I believe the movie knocks it out of the park most of the time. There are certainly a few times in which the movie misses a note trying to insert humor a little too much, but overall I think the movie manages to stay funny while delivering some really heart-wrenching scenes that feel organic, natural, and realistic. The tone of the movie is very melancholy overall. Most of the humor comes from the awkward situations that Seth Rogan places Kyle in to try and cheer him; with most  of it failing in various hilarious ways. Despite its depressing story, 50/50 really does find the perfect balance in tone, humor, and character work. The pacing of the film is also a great one as the movie usually keeps things funny enough often enough without taking away from the more dramatic character moments. This being said; there were certainly a few times when the movie was trying just a little too hard(“special brownies”?) and it is generally noticeable because it is in these moments that the movie relies on stoner humor or old jokes as opposed to its more original style. The movie isn’t without some minor flaws, but overall the pacing and the tone certainly gets more right than wrong.

The young cast for the film is actually a really solid one with Levitt leading the ensemble by turning in a great and seemingly realistic performance of a guy in that situation. Levitt is able to maintain the charm he has developed in his career while also giving us some very convincing dramatic acting. His character goes through many stages of acceptance in the movie and Levitt is able to nail the wide range of emotions that comes with the territory of cancer. His performance was certainly overlooked to some degree this year, but I have no doubt that Levitt is on the brink of becoming one of Hollywood’s big mainstay actors in the coming months. The supporting cast also does really well with even Seth Rogan(who I generally do not care for) turning in a memorable performance as the good intentioned yet slightly misguided best friend. Bryce Dallas Howard continues to build her career on unlikable female leads and she does it again in 50/50 while still giving her character enough dimensions to sympathize with to some point. The relatively young actress Anna Kendrick also brings a memorable performance as the naive therapist who has fallen for Adam. Even though what she does is certainly frowned upon, you can’t help but root for her to some degree because of the great writing and very innocent performance that is turned in here. The acting and character writing was certainly above par especially for a low key movie in the vein of 50/50.

Overall I would say that 50/50 is a very interesting mix of ideas that turns out much better than would be expected. Taking a sad situation such as a young man being diagnosed with cancer and looking at through a somewhat comedic lens was a gutsy movie, but the director, writers, and cast pull it off to great effect by giving us likable and believable characters. I would highly recommend the movie to people who like more dramatic comedies and character stories.

Story: 9.0

The movie takes a story of  darkness, acceptance of death, and broken relationships and looks at it through a comedic lens. The movie is certainly funny more times than not while also managing to really pack a punch when it comes to dramatic character moments. The writing is top notch, and the clashing ideas find synthesis in the film.

Character/Acting: 9.5

While some of the supporting characters aren’t particularly developed, they are very realistic. Every character feels organic, and the choices and reaction seem very grounded and realistic. The characters are all very well written and Joseph Gordon Levitt is able to capture the huge range of emotions that comes with the territory of cancer. The supporting cast is strong with even Seth Rogan pulling off his role with near perfection

Direction: 9.5

The thing that director Jonathan Levine is able to do so well is really capture the perfect tone that this movie needed to have to be successful. It’s not just any director that can take a script about cancer and actually make the comedic sections work like they are supposed to. Without his take on the movie; the whole film could have easily been a miss.

Overall Effect of the movie: 9.5

50/50 is a great comedy, drama, and character study. The movie feels extremely believable because of the pitch perfect tone, great script, and great cast. This movie certainly accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. Other than a few jokes that were a little off I’d say the movie passes in spades.

Overall Score: 9.5

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