Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Levine
CINEMATOGRAPY: Terry Stacey
WRITER: Will Reiser
MUSIC: Michael Giacchino
“50/50” is a film that is probably the truest representation of what it is like for a young man to realize that he has a disease which gives him a straight-down-the-middle chance at survival. Usually, in a film about cancer, it’s about an older man or woman dealing with the horrible disease. Here, the movie deals head-on with the unfortunate younger generation that suddenly has to realize that the rest of their lives might not be as long as they hoped.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that this film is slightly more realistic than others. Screenwriter Will Reiser was diagnosed with cancer when he was 25. Unlike several other victims, Reiser survived his dreadful prognosis and much of this movie is based on his experience. Fortunately, Reiser also believes in that old saying that while cancer is a very dramatic subject, laughter is the best medicine.
The film opens up with Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) doing his normal morning exercise even though he is having trouble with his lower back. Adam is the picture of healthy living. As he says in the movie, he doesn’t drink, smoke and he recycles. This makes it even more painful when Adam learns that the pain in his back is a rare form of cancer and that the chances of survival are 50/50.
Everyone around him tries or seems to try and comfort him and be there for him. This includes his distant girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), his overbearing mother Diane (Anjelica Huston) and his raunchy friend Kyle (Seth Rogen). The film paints an appropriate picture for how the cancer patient and those around him would react in real life, albeit with a little more humor added to the mix.
The movie is neither a drama nor a comedy. It’s that hybrid known as a dramedy and it once again proves that while drama and comedy are effective individually, there are also times where they unexpectedly coexist. Sometimes, Adam just needs a laugh with Kyle while his inner turmoil is painted perfectly as he progresses through the flick. Then, there are moments where comedy can highlight the absurdity in situations that would otherwise be perceived as deadly serious.
The screenplay’s punch is also enhanced by its stellar cast. Gordon-Levitt is the central anchor that holds the film together. He is an actor that has proven in the past that he can be both dramatic and funny. Here, his talents are not wasted and he gives a truly stellar performance.
Rogen is also great to watch as Kyle. This is despite the fact that he is essentially playing the same slacker character that he’s best known for. Still, it works. It is Rogen’s genuine charm that constantly reminds the audience that while Kyle may selfishly use Adam’s illness to pick up chicks, his loyalty to Adam is never in question.
Another performance of note comes from Philip Baker Hall as Alan, an older cancer patient and Adam’s fellow chemo patient. Alan has long accepted the sickness that will probably claim his life. The only problem with this character is that his part is short leaving the audience to wish there was a little more time.
“50/50” is not a perfect film. There are times where it drags out a little too long, but unlike last week’s “Moneyball”, these moments are far and few between yet still noticeable enough to be mentioned. With an amazing cast and almost solid story, Reiser and director Jonathan Levine have given an accurate yet genuinely funny movie that turns out to be one of the better highlights of the year.