Cancer is one of the few subjects that everyone has likely experienced on some level throughout their lives, whether it be personally or through relatives or loved ones. One thing’s for certain, it’s definitely not a topic you’d think would work as the focal point of a comedy film. And yet that’s exactly what happens in 50/50, a beautifully told, funny and touching story about a young man who’s diagnosed with cancer at the age of 27.
The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a young man in the prime of his life who’s biggest problems at the moment is the fact that the interview he’s editing for work wasn’t recorded well, and that his sex life isn’t exactly on the up and up. These issues quickly become miniscule to the point of non-existence not long after however, as back pains cause Adam to go get an MRI that reveals a rare spinal cancer that even with treatment leaves him with a 50% survival rate. His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) tries to use this information to comfort him explaining that, “(50/50) isn’t that bad! If you were a casino game you’d have the best odds.”
The film shows the struggles of living with cancer, as well as the ongoing battle to try and beat the disease. However, instead of just focusing on the sad moments that a revelation like this is bound to bring up (though there are many of those as well!) screenwriter Will Reiser adds a lot of hilarious moments in the film that will have viewers laughing out loud just as often as they find themselves reaching for the tissues. The reason Reiser is able to find such a great balance in this is because while the story isn’t an autobiography, he himself was diagnosed with spinal cancer in his 20s and he was able to use those experiences when writing 50/50.
Reiser, along with his friends Rogen and producer Evan Goldberg lived through a lot of what is found in the film, at least on some level while Reiser was going through treatment himself. Again, Reiser points out in the extras that this isn’t a film about him, and he really wanted Adam to be his own character; however, the powerful emotions that are evoked from this screenplay and seen on the screen due to the wonderful acting job of Gordon-Levitt are made that much stronger having been written by someone who’s been there and lived it.
Director Jonathan Levine does a great job of creating the perfect sense of isolation for Adam, even though he’s almost always sharing the screen with another character. The moments when Adam rides the bus alone, or when he really begins to realize that no matter how many people are there to support him this is something he’s got to go through on his own are really well shot, and convey the message perfectly.
Gordon-Levitt is absolutely fantastic as Adam, in a role that really makes or breaks the entire film, regardless of how well written it is. JGL allows for the perfect amount of sympathy to go his way, and makes the audience hope he overcomes the odds and beats the disease. The reason this works is because his character is instantly likable and relatable, at least on some level, to most. He’s someone who kind of just lives day to day and doesn’t really like confrontation and is just content with things the way they are. He’s not a character that feels defeated in life, even though he’s not out there living each day like it’s his last — he just feels real. Not that anyone would ever route for a character to not overcome this terrible disease, it’s just that Gordon-Levitt makes you feel comfortable laughing at his situation when the moments arise, while also knowing deep down that this could happen to anyone.
The supporting cast is just as fantastic, with Rogen turning in one of his best performances yet as Kyle. There are many layers to Kyle, and Rogen nails them all. It’s said that Gordon-Levitt and Rogen improvised a lot of their comedic scenes together, and it’s easy to see which they likely are when you watch the film. The scene where Adam decides to have his head is incredibly funny due to the back and forth banter between Adam and Kyle throughout. What could have easily been shot as a dramatic G.I. Jane type “I’m tough and I’ll beat this!” moment ended up being one of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the entire film because of the great chemistry between the two friends.
Also worth noting are the females in the film, who all play important parts in Adam’s life. First off there’s Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Rachael, Adam’s girlfriend who chooses to stand by his side through it all without fully realizing just how much she’d be taking on; Anna Kendrick, who plays Katherine, Adam’s psychiatrist in training; and finally, Anjelica Huston, who plays Adam’s worrisome mother. All three ladies give great performances and really give the audience something to think about when it comes to just how much something like this affects not only the person who’s diagnosed with the disease, but also everyone around them.
50/50 is an absolutely fantastic movie that deals with a topic that isn’t easy to touch upon. Our own mortality is not something we like to think about very often and this film really puts the fact that at any moment, any one of us could be faced with a life-altering disease that could make us put everything in perspective. However, while it may focus on a scary subject, the movie delivers it in such a hilarious and touching manner that the ratio of tears to laughs is right around 50/50. Highly recommended.
The video transfer for the film is 16:9 1.78 1080p HD and it looks solid throughout. While there are a few scenes that have a slight grainy look to them, it’s something that definitely isn’t noticeable if you’re wrapped up in the story. I only noticed it upon going back to listen to some of the audio commentary, so it’s definitely not as distracting as some grainy transfers have been and overall it’s rather solid. The audio is also solid, with a DTS-HD Master Audio transfer that mixes the dialogue, background sounds and music together perfectly.
The special features are pretty good overall, with enough of what people will want to see in small doses.
First off there’s an Audio Commentary with Seth Rogen, director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser – This is a great commentary, as the three get along wonderfully and really have some great jokes and insight throughout as far as the making of the film went, as well as Reiser’s real life stories of his diagnoses and battle.
Deleted scenes – five deleted scenes running at just over six minutes in length. If you’re going to watch these I’d recommend doing so with the commentary on. There’s one scene in particular that I felt should have been left in the movie, and funny enough so does the director. Unfortunately time restraints and overall pacing left it out, which I completely understand. Still, it would have been nice to see that sub-plot have a concrete ending (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you watch these/see the movie.)
The story of 50/50 – This featurette is based around the real life story of screenwriter Will Reiser, who actually was diagnosed with cancer in his 20s, and was friends with producer Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. It’s almost eight minutes in length and is worth watching just to see the reflection his experiences had on the film he wrote.
Life inspires Art – This featurette is just over nine minutes in length and talks about a few scenes in the film that were inspired by Will’s experiences when he was going through treatment for cancer.
Seek and Destroy – This is a quick, fun little featurette that just covers the destruction of the painting scene. They make it all dramatic, which is quite funny and is just two and a half minutes in length.
50/50 is a film that’s incredibly powerful, especially if you have battled cancer before, or know someone who has. They say laughter is the best medicine, and if that’s the case then this film definitely belongs in the prescription pile. While the subject matter may be too close to home for some to handle, those who can will find that 50/50 is one of the most touching films of last year, and one that definitely shouldn’t be missed.
Entertainment One presents 50/50. Directed by: Jonathan Levine. Written by: Will Reiser. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston. Running time: 100 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on Blu-ray: January 17, 2012 Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: 50/50, Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick, bryce dallas howard, Jonathan Levine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen