Right now comedy-dramas is where filmmakers are trying new things, since most of the movies are lost in 3-D hell. They are amplifying the form to include bigger chunks of life, aspects of the human experience seemingly ineligible for comic treatment. And so we get "50/50," about a guy in his late 20s facing even odds of beating cancer.
It’s a difficult thing to make a movie like 50/50, which was written by Will Reiser based on his own early-twenties experience with a tumor on his spine. The whole film really, blends anonymous tragedy with blunt comedy, but uneasily—in a way that suggests that though it’s OK to laugh, we shouldn’t exactly feel good about it. The thumbnail description of '50/50,' doesn't come close to explaining the film within. This movie maintains the difficult balance between enduring a deadly disease and revealing the laughs that hang out in the messes and miseries of the human adventure.
PlotAdam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27-year old radio reporter. He is a risk-averse, responsible guy who regularly goes running around his native Seattle and won't cross a street until the traffic light permits. So, he is understandably shocked when he learns of the malignant tumors along his spine. Adam's chances of survival are summed up in the film's title.
Adam's artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), wants to help him but is ill-equipped emotionally for the task. His mother (Anjelica Huston) wants to repress him with attention, but the emotionally stunted Adam won't have it. He's also got Kyle (Seth Rogen), a genuine friend, who can be a blessing and a curse.
Adam also begins counseling sessions with Katherine (Anna Kenderick), a 24-year old hospital-suggested therapist with almost no experience. She's bungling her way toward her doctorate, but beneath her insecurities and Adam's fear there is some real feeling. After much pain, suffering, and weakness, the chemo regimen ends and watch the movie to hear the verdict on Adam's life.
AnalysisAll the performances in this film is flawless, but three stand-out: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific and ideally cast as the sort of self-effacing, sensitive guy who seems more special and appealing the longer you spend with him. He is always proud even as his capacities diminish, never stooping to claim on our sympathy. Rogen as Kyle is his usual funny self, with inappropriate humor, until they're revealed as the only morale-boosting strategy in the context of Adam's fight. He establishes a surrounding without reveling in or ignoring the tragedy. Anna Kendrick as Katherine, the amateur counselor, puts in a winning performance. Katherine is off-putting at first, as she knows the facts, but doesn't have the feel. However she, too, grows throughout the film.
Anjelica Huston, as a slightly nagging-mom role pays off in the end with enormous emotion. Bryce Dallas Howard is Adam's girlfriend, who is not the likable character, nonetheless she makes Rachael as human as possible under the circumstances. Describing his own experience, Reiser's screenplay avoids artificial humor and synthetic situations. He consistently, stubbornly plays every moment for matter-of-fact realism. Subtle observations underlie the comedy. An emotional scene between Adam and his Alzheimer's-stricken dad (Serge Houde) is lovingly conveyed. Reiser and director Levine portrays vividly the everyday aspects of personal catastrophe as patients sit for hours filling their veins with chemo. Jonathan Levine also captures the tricky tonal balance between comedy and drama — every time the movie seems poised to go either too silly or too sentimental he pulls back to just the right space.
'50/50' is great because it is not trying to force us into any particular emotion. Avoiding silly sentimentality and irritable trivializing, the story is sincere and deeply affecting. There are sequences throughout the film that work marvelously, particularly the ones in which Adam goes to chemo with Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer), two eccentric old men who introduce themselves by name and stage of their cancer. The film also becomes alive is in its ever more romantic encounters between Adam, and Katherine.
50/50 victoriously shows that profound emotion and wide-ranging humor can co-exist in the same movie — just as they do in real life.
50/50 - IMDb