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Movie Review: “50/50″

September 30, 2011

Nothing about cancer is funny; however it does happen to funny people. People like writer Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with spinal cancer at the age of 25, and Seth Rogen, his best friend, are examples of this. 50/50 is the movie that evolved from their experiences. A loose dramatization, it is a film with equal parts humor and heart about the struggles of living with cancer.

Adam, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a 27 year old who doesn’t drink, smoke, but does recycle. He wears a lot of sweaters, his hair is always in place, and he is knowingly branded as the “nice guy”. He has just learned that he has cancer. On paper, he shouldn’t be dying, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is.

He tells his friends and his family. Some react optimistically, others break down, and a few even put on the guise of support while swiftly stepping backwards. There are no good reactions to being told a loved one could die, mostly, because none of it changes a thing. Instead, one must learn to cope.

Coping is essentially what the film is about. Not much time is spent dwelling on the physical symptoms of cancer; instead it focuses on the quest to emotionally survive it. This is something that everyone around Adam must do. His mother (Anjelica Huston) joins a support group, his best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen) buys a couple books, and his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) even gets him a dog. They may not know how to best handle the situation, but their subtle gestures are attempts at support.

Adam needs much more support though, than his family can give him. He begins seeing a youthful counselor, played by Anna Kendrick, who assists him the most in his journey. She is new at her job, and has a tendency to over-simplify his grief and even though it infuriates Adam, it works beautifully for the film. She verbalizes what he is going through to the audience so he can better portray it emotionally and physically.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is the stand-out. He plays Adam with a vulnerability that is both sensitive and honest. Adam is as flawed as he is likeable. Even moments that would play as cheesy in most films feel realistic because of the truthfulness that he brings to the screen. He is building a career that shows great conviction, as well as range and this is no exception. His performance is already getting a fair amount of Oscar buzz and while it’s too soon to tell if the buzz with materialize, if nothing else it foreshadows the future of his career.

50/50 is being marketed as a bro-mance about cancer, which is unfortunate because it really is so much more.  Yes, Adam and Kyle are friends and there is plenty of situational humor that borders on the line of crude, but the film never veers far from the reality of the situation. I liken it to the fact that the worse my day is the more I want to watch a comedy. It doesn’t fix my problems, but it separates them from me for a little while. There are a multitude of comical moments throughout, but most conclude bittersweetly and are a reminder of how sick Adam truly is.

Some movies trick an audience into feeling. Look at all of the sports movies that capitalize on the locker room speech inciting the audience to help root the team onto victory. These can be the greatest moments in a film, but if the connection between the viewer and the character isn’t already there then the drama will fall flat. 50/50 manipulates just as readily, but it does not fail. Reminiscent of the effortless blend of comedy and drama found in the works of James L. Brooks, the film happily lingers in the world of melodrama, but the characters and their love for one another feel so genuine that it doesn’t matter.  Whether or not Adam survives is the ultimate question, but the fact that we root for him every step of the way that is the movie’s ultimate victory.

50/50 is rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use. Directed by Jonathan Levin. Written by Will Reiser. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston and Bryce Dallas Howard.


2 Responses to “ Movie Review: “50/50″ ”

  1. willieguerin on October 1, 2011 at 3:10 am

    Hopefully more laughs in 50/50.

  2. Nat Almirall on October 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Damn. This is the review I wish I could have written.