Review – “50/50”

50/50 one-sheet
"50/50" © 2010 Summit Entertainment, Mandate Pictures, Point Grey Pictures

On the cover art for the Blu-Ray one of the lines on it is “From the guys who brought you ‘Superbad‘.”  This is true, but for a lot of people, they’re going to instantly discount this movie as one that would play out like Knocked Up and Superbad themselves played out: massive amounts of comedy, some gross out, with completely and utterly immature characters dealing with a big life moment.  While some elements remain true, this feels like a completely different film from their previous work.  While it shows them growing up as writers and filmmakers, they show it doesn’t mean they have to abandon their the personality they came to be known for had to be abandoned completely.

50/50 is something new out of the wheelhouse of Rogan’s normal outings in the theater.  While it was marketed as a straight up comedy in the advertising campaign that ran before it’s (sadly short lived) wide release in theaters, it’s actually much closer to a drama with a few comedic elements that pop up from time to time.  Writer Will Reiser pulled from personal experience to create the script for this film.  Reiser, a former writer for the television show Mr. Show went through a fight with cancer with Seth Rogen and a couple other writers from the same show at his side.  He states that it’s not an autobiographic story, but he still pulled beats from the experiences.

The story itself is of Adam(Joseph Gordon Levitt), who at 27 years-old is diagnosed with spinal cancer.  He’s currently sort of living with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), and working with his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) in Seattle’s public radio station.  The entire film follows Adam as cancer affects every bit of his life; from having to deal with his mother(Anjelica Huston) and father (Serge Houde); as well as with his therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick), who just happens to be younger than he is.

There is a bit of time from the start of the movie to when Adam is diagnosed, but it doesn’t feel wasted.  There are little elements throughout that come to fruition later on in the film.  Some writers really have a problem with this, and it’s always a joy to see this done  as well as it’s done here.  They have moments that end up creating a brilliant irony and parallel to Adam’s character.  When Rachael gives him a rescue dog as a pet to try and help the healing process, it makes you laugh at the absurdity of the situation.  The film moves at a brisk pace, and you won’t believe how much of the picture’s gone by when you get to the final act.  If there is anything that is a fault in the story and characters, it’s that they do not give Rachael enough time to blossom as a terribly three dimensional character.  Katherine fares better, though that is more due to her having more screen time than anything else.

The actors in the film are superb, and at minimum I felt that there was one Oscar-worthy performance in the bunch.  That performance came out of Joseph Gordon Levitt.  This is an actor for is genuinely becoming more and more of a massive star for the Millennials to call their own.  In the last three or four years, he has become a huge star, the main bump for Millennials coming in through his performance in (500) Days of Summer (DISCLAIMER: I do happen to be a fan of that film), while the rest of the public found him within the confines of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.  I haven’t seen him take on the same type of role twice, and the character of Adam is no exception.  This time, we see a bit more of a cynical character than Tom was in Summer.  This is absolutely felt in the performance, and I think that while it was in the script, Levitt made that much more prevalent.  While the basic character is great through his lens, I think that we see what Levitt is truly capable of as an actor as we get further n the film.  There are some moments that you can feel the raw emotion of, and it feels like he took the emotion on himself.  The performance is absolutely outstanding and is worth seeing for that alone.

Rogen gives a great performance as well, though some may not realize it when they watch it the first time though.  It seems like he’s playing his normal role, which he is.  In this case though, it is actually in service of the role itself, because the character is based off him.  I was really impressed with it, though you have to watch the film at least once to see why it is impressive.  Howard takes a role that is relatively two-dimensional on the page and still is able to breathe some life into the role.  She really makes you feel emotional over the character, and gives Rachael a reason to be in the film still.  Kendrick has a great turn as Adam’s therapist, which honestly has no doctor/patient relationship part way through the film.  It feels earned though, and fits in with her character who is still relatively green at her profession.  Last, but certainly not least are Adams parents.  Huston and Houde are the next strongest actors in the film by far, even though their roles are relatively small timewise.  Houde genuinely impressed in a role of someone with advanced Alzheimer’s.

The cinematography is one thing I really loved in this movie.  The use of color is quite strong throughout the film, though it’s so subtly done that you won’t realize it.  The colors are more vivid in certain points, but as the cancer begins to take over there seems to be some muting going on as the cancer becomes a larger part of the story over time.  It really makes it that much easier to fall in emotionally with Adam.  I love when these kind of things happen, because it seems sometimes that a sharp picture and vivid or muted  colors just stay at a constant any longer.  To see emotion through these means is something that makes me feel we still have strong work coming out of the film industry.

All in all, I really genuinely do love this film, even with the few problems I mentioned.  It’s incredibly emotional, and really has the ability to put you in someone else’s shoes.  You can still get a laugh out of this film, too.  I really wish this had been further represented in the awards season and not confined to the Golden Globes.  Still, we’re seeing this group grow up as filmmakers, writers and actors with this film, so it will be interesting to see what comes next out of them.



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