FILM REVIEW: 50/50
50/50, the latest movie from director Jonathan Levine (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Wackness) is a film about friendship, family and cancer. Based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s personal experience, the film follows Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he deals with having cancer and the support that comes along with it.
His best friend, played by Seth Rogen, tries to find the positive in an otherwise very negative situation by finding ways for Adam to use the cancer to his best advantage. While his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds herself in over her head trying to take care of Adam. Adam’s therapist (Anna Kendrick) and his mother (Anjelica Huston) also try to give him as much support as possible with varying degrees of success.
The pairing of cancer and comedy may seem like a crass duo but the film handles the topic in a compassionate way. Some films in the past have tried to deal with cancer with a touch of humour, but they have never had the heart that 50/50 displays. If you’ve ever had experiences with friends or family who had cancer, you will identify with this film. The film will hit hard because it is a fully realized fictional account of a real life experience.
Leading up to the film’s release, it was getting a lot of hype for the combination of comedy with cancer. Let’s be clear, this isn’t The Hangover Part II or any of the many terrible comedies from this past summer. There are no comedic set pieces or ridiculous jokes but the comedy stems from honest character reactions to their situation. The comedy grounds the characters effectively making them vulnerable and easily relatable. It also works as a catharsis due to the terrifying and depressing situation. The humour provides an authenticity to the characters that makes the final 15-20 minutes of the film one of the most emotionally effective pieces of filmmaking that I’ve ever seen. I often get choked up in films but I was uncontrollably balling by the end of it, as were most other people in the audience.
In addition to humour creating a very emotional film, each of the cast members add to that by bringing truthful performances. Across the board, the cast shines in every moment of the film. Essentially playing himself, since he is screenwriter Will Reiser’s best friend, Seth Rogen is at the top of his game. He brings the laughs and a wonderful exposed performance as Adam’s best friend. His trademark crude humour can be found throughout the film, but it’s used to create a genuinely sympathetic character.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt continuously impresses with each subsequent film and this role might be his best yet. He brings such an identity and emotion to his character that it makes it easy to identify with him. Even minor characters are fully realized although they appear for a few scenes of the film. Anjelica Huston who plays Adam’s mom, made us feel like we really knew Adam’s mother. Anna Kendrick is also lovely as Joseph Gordon Levitt’s therapist and eventual love interest. While these moments with Kendrick could have been cheesy, their relationship is developed in an honest way and the film earned these moments.
I haven’t been able to identify with a film to such an extreme extent like 50/50 in a very long time. It helps that the film is mainly subjective by focusing on one person’s experience of a previous situation. It might be that I can see myself in the main character and friends and family through the other numerous characters. Also, Angelica Huston’s portrayal of Adam’s mom spookily reminded me of my own mother. I feel like the film was one of those rare occurrences where characters feel like people in my life and I’m able to identify with the main character to such a degree that the barrier of the screen disappears. While the film hit me hard in its final stages, I wouldn’t say that it’s a manipulative tearjerker. The movie finds the truth in these situations and earns these final moments.
For all of the accolades bestowed upon the actors, the director of the film is no slouch either. Jonathan Levine is a loved director among many cinephiles for creating very nostalgic works such as the 70s/80s horror throwback film All The Boys Love Mandy Lane and the 90s inspired The Wackness. His use of nostalgia transfers over to 50/50, not for a specific time period but for just living a life. With the exception of a few moments of placing the viewer inside the point of view of the character through cinematography, his filmmaking is very restrained and objective, allowing for the performances and genuine moments to take the center stage.
Go see this movie. Laugh. Cry. Even cheer. It’s a film about friendship, love and the effect of cancer has while also showing that humour can be found even in a terrible situation. 50/50 is one of my favourites of the year so far and I highly recommend it.