50/50 (2011)

September 29, 2011 By Mike B
Movie Review

What Worked?

50/50 will help you see that cancer can be a funny thing. Screenwriter Will Reiser was diagnosed with cancer in his mid twenties and coped with being close to death with the comfort of humor, and then he wrote¬† a script that he describes as the “best comedy about cancer.” Right now, it’s probably the only comedic film about cancer, but that doesn’t mean it fails to beat the odds amongst the top comedies of the year. This film has an amazing cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Ana Kendricks, and Philip Hall Baker, as well as a wonderful script and dedicated direction from Jonathan Levine.

Levine sets the pace of the film just right, and the majority of the film goes for simple, straight-forward shots that matter, but also has pivotal moments where the editing allows you to become intimate with the main character of Adam. For example, when Adam first learns that he has cancer, the sound of life is silenced by the gravity of the bad news or when Adam smokes pot, we get to see through his blurred vision of the world, where everything sad is turned upside down by a little green bag. The soundtrack is also very interesting, as the selection of songs are perfectly married to the scenes. There is also one scene in particular, when Adam and his friends are talking about radio, where every word they say is so genuine that the characters truly become real. Reiser’s script doesn’t hold back the profanity or dull down the crude, sharp humor, but it also isn’t overly funny. There are moments where the weight of the subject takes over, and the characters simply react to it, but it never gets Lifetime movie status. The script is touching, but it’s also funny as hell.

James McAvoy dropped out of the project for one reason or another, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt jumped on board with only one week to prepare. Sometimes the stars align just right, because Gordon-Levitt was perfect for the role of Adam. Gordon-Levitt becomes Adam: a nice but neurotic person that is unsatisfied with his life because he doesn’t invest enough in it. When he’s diagnosed with cancer, Adam becomes emotionally distant, pushing his mother away and giving his therapist a hard time.¬† Gordon-Levitt holds a calm fortitude, but there’s always that troubled look or awkward shrug that subtly shows his fear. Through Adams journey, his body is dying but his emotional connections grow, and Gordon-Levitt shows that transition so naturally; he nails it with ease.

Seth Rogen, playing Kyle, who is Adam’s best friend, is his typical funny self: hilariously inappropriate and a bit of a dick but with good intentions. The difference with Rogen in this role is that he’s equally as scared as Adam is, and he shows it by hiding it. Ana Kendricks plays Catherine, Adam’s therapist, and she’s her usual cute self as well, but is also desperately trying to help Adam cope with his sickness. Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer have supporting roles as cancer patients that go through the agony with Adam, and they’re hilarious in their limited screen-time.

50/50 turns one of the heavyweights of serious matters, cancer, into something comedic; and the humor helps to defeat the cancer emotionally. Adam deals with death like any of us would, and finds out that comedy makes “the end” bearable; it makes life in general bearable. 50/50 beats the odds by being the best comedy about cancer that is also the best comedy of the year.

Potential Drawbacks:

Some may find several of the jokes offensive or too abrasive or crude, and some may not think cancer is a “laughing matter.” The film definitely has a fresh take on dealing with cancer, and it never ends up being a generic tear-jerker.

Film Recommendations:

Funny People
Knocked Up



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