50/50 Review

(3.5 STARS)

Cancer, sadly, is something most people need to deal with sometime in their lives, whether it’s their own diagnosis or that of a family member or friend. That’s what makes 50/50 so believable and relatable. It looks at one young man’s diagnosis of a rare form of the disease, the way he copes with the possibility of death, and how his friends and families react to such sad and shocking news. It’s a very thoughtful film with one of the best screenplays of the year. I thought it dipped into comedy a little too often, but it manages to cover a lot of ground in a surprisingly smart and emotional way.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a happy, well-adjusted, and relatively successful twenty-something in Seattle. He’s dating a girl, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is way out of his league and has a good job at a radio station with his best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), but after complaining of back pain for a while, he visits a doctor and finds out he has a rare form of spinal cancer. With only a 50% survival rate, Adam nearly goes into shock, as do Kyle, Rachael, and Adam’s mother (Anjelica Huston). As he begins chemotherapy, he starts seeing a shrink, Katherine (Anna Kendrick). But as those around him begin changing, Adam realizes it’s up to him to find strength and the necessary attitude he needs to defeat the disease.

50/50 has three very distinct thirds, and if I had to give them all a grade, I’d say the first third is a solid B+, the second third a slightly worse B, and the final third a definite A. Our introduction to Adam is just what it needs to be, and it’s interesting to see the various people that will play different, but equally important, roles in his hopeful recovery. The middle of the film spends a little too much time with Adam and Kyle trying to pick up chicks and not nearly enough time with the underused paring of Phillip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer, Adam’s kindly, pot-brownie-eating friends from chemo. I thought the way Adam’s relationships with Rachael and Katherine change to be interesting, but like I said, this section of the film suffered a little from Seth Rogen overload.

The film’s final 20-30 minutes, however, are near perfection. It’s during this time, that Adam’s relationship with his mother shines, and Anjelica Huston seizes the moment by turning out one of the best supporting actress performances I’ve seen in years. Hell if I know how her name has been kept out of the Oscar discussion, but she’s phenomenal, and an easy choice for supporting performance of the year thus far. JGL, of course, is as good as you’d expect, and he has two, maybe three, scenes during this portion of the film that will just break your heart. Anna Kendrick, as well, is fantastic, especially during the film’s latter scenes. I was feeling good about 50/50 most of the way through, but my opinion skyrocketed as it inches closer and closer toward its very poignant finale.

I loved 50/50‘s screenplay for the most part, though I blame Will Reiser (the inspiration for Adam) for the missteps with Rogen. It’s not as if the actor is bad (he’s doing what he’s asked to do), nor is it that the material isn’t funny (quite the contrary, actually), it’s just that I didn’t think it was necessary and I think the crude Apatow-style humor distracted from what was, at its heart, a very moving story.

But no amount of dick jokes can take away what I ultimately took away from this film: That JGL is one of his generation’s best. That Anjelica Huston has still got it. That Anna Kendrick is the real deal. And that it’s possible to make a story about cancer that’s so relatable I nearly found myself in tears on multiple occasions.

It’s the last point that really made 50/50 so special. So many moments in this film rang true to me. I couldn’t help but identify with Adam, despite (thankfully) never going through what he did in the film. And every relationship he found himself in—whether it be with the overprotective mother, the girlfriend who is in over her head, or the young professional trying a little too hard—was easy to accept. Bravo to all involved for making a real winner—the fourth such film already this fall.

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