By: Addison Wylie
Some subjects are hard to write about. Even when successfully pulled off, sometime’s the film’s major obstacle is selling it to the average movie goer. Sure, 50/50 has a recognizable cast, producers with a noticeable track record, and a director that helmed The Wackness; a movie I wasn’t necessarily head over heels for but made an impression on numerous critics.
However, since the film deals with the main character finding out he has cancer, the question at hand is will movie goers see a risky film such as this. A movie that deals with a serious subject but also isn’t afraid to make jokes about the nature of the disease. Well, if audiences do decide to pass on 50/50 because of this originality, it’ll be a real shame because 50/50 is a prime example of sincere filmmaking with a perfect balance of drama and comedy.
Adam, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, appears to be healthy as a horse. The opening credits gives us proof of this as we see Adam jogging at a reasonable rate while watching for traffic. He lives a safe and comfortable life. He even enjoys working at the local radio station with his pal Kyle, played marvellously by Seth Rogen.
Adam, however, has been experiencing repeated back pains. The back pains become such a nuisance that Adam decides to visit his doctor to get them checked out. After being examined, the doctor begins to ramble. When Adam asks for a simpler explanation, the doctor explains that a rare type of cancer exists in Adam. Adam is in shock; we visually see this from the frightened but numb facial expression on Adam but briefly, the audience is taken into the mind of Adam. The background becomes very soft, everything else the doctor is saying is a lowered mumble as Adam comprehends this enormous news.
As Adam prepares for his potentially helpful but hazardous chemotherapy treatment, he sees the world from a different perspective as he becomes more honest (and sometimes irate) with the aura around him. No matter how down in the dumps he is though, Adam’s protective mother, played by Angelica Huston, his girlfriend Rachael, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and Kyle all agree to help Adam through these tough times.
The screenwriter Will Reiser has written a genuinely frank script that handles the topic extremely well. A lot of, if not all, of 50/50 has been inspired by Resier’s own difficulties and triumphs with cancer. It’s unfortunate that Reiser has to live with this crippling disease but he has been able to swimmingly take those memories and apply them to this captivating and therapeutic film. Because of how personal these scenes are written, audiences will feel a special connection with the Adam character. If audience members have watched someone live with cancer, that connection is even stronger; and I imagine it’s even more powerful if that audience member has had a history with cancer.
Resier also does a terrific job blending in humorous situations. The jokes are very well written and well timed. Scenes between Adam and Kyle are especially effective because these two actors have such wonderful camaraderie and also know how to approach the fine tuned lines to make them that much more authentic. Scenes where Kyle is asking Adam questions about cancer or trying to bring his hopes up are moving and funny because everyone has had similar cases with close friends. These emotions are present once again when Adam meets two older cancer patients, Alan and Mitch, played by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer.
Gordon-Levitt, once again, proves he’s one of the finest actors working in movies presently as he submits yet another heart-wrenching and convincing performance. The supporting cast all do a fine job as well; although I do wonder if Howard will ever play a character with zero flaws. She plays this kind of character so well though.
I want to focus on Rogen’s performance for a moment because he has perhaps the hardest role in the entire movie. Most of the time during 50/50, the script calls on Kyle to break the tension. However, it’s not always about being funny. Rogen has to approach this character carefully but also not treat the character delicately; inputting lots of sympathetic hints while also being brutally honest.
For a long time, it seemed as if movie watchers were very critical regarding Rogen’s acting chops saying that he essentially plays the same stoner note in every film. Those criticizers should take note of the actor’s work here. Rogen is phenomenal here and perfectly nails every detail. This is definitely a game changer for the comedic actor.
Director Jonathan Levine has done a great job utilizing his talented cast and sensational script. For me, the director has come a long way since the mediocre Wackness.
In closing, I did notice one troubling detail that if changed, would’ve made the film that much better. That issue is with Terry Stacey’s cinematography. I don’t know if Stacey has trouble fighting outdoor light with his shots or if Levine was trying to pull off some tricky visual symbolism to make a statement on Adam’s emotional discomfort but the washed out look to the film does not work. When sunlight streams through the windows during indoor scenes or a conversation is taking place in daylight, the light begins to swallow the actors up. A scene where Kyle and Adam are walking a dog is a great example of this; it looks as if Rogen is beginning to camouflage into the background.
It’s too bad this happens because these amateurish visuals occasionally distract us from the film’s strengths. Shoddy camera work aside though, 50/50 is a very effective dramedy that the average movie goer should most definitely go out on a limb for.