Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick
Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins
Release Date: September 30, 2011
PLOT: Adam (Gordon-Levitt) thinks he is happy and healthy until the 27-year-old is diagnosed with a rare cancer that has a 50 percent survival rate. His dysfunctional friends and family try to help him through his treatments.
WHO’S IT FOR? It’s a small movie that subtly focuses on a young person struggling with cancer. While it’s a drama first, there is a lot of comedy.
EXPECTATIONS: I like Gordon-Levitt, I like Rogen and I love cancer. OK, only two of those things are true.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam: Adam plays it safe in life. He doesn’t smoke or drink and he respects crosswalks. It’s actually a struggle to find out how Adam is going to deal with the news that he has cancer. Is he angry? Sad? Fine? The answer is “yes” to all of those questions. For someone who has a large, infectious smile, Gordon-Levitt keeps it in check and only uses it sparingly in this role to great effect. Adam is able to fight through his inner turmoil and we get to watch. Oh, and he’s right, he does look kind of weird with a shaved head.
Seth Rogen as Kyle: The first thing I wrote down about Kyle is, “Same Seth, blowjobs.” Yes, he was talking about blowjobs. Yes, it’s the Rogen we know (and some of us love). The marijuana laugh and carefree attitude are present, but it’s with a true supporting role. Besides voice work, that hasn’t happened since Superbad. As the cancer grows, so does his role. It’s a great friendship between Adam and Kyle and was shockingly the most emotional connection.
Bryce Dallas Howard as Rachael: Howard is an ice queen in The Help. She removes that display, but replaces it with self pity. She’s the girlfriend of a guy who may die. Her pain makes sense, yet the way she expresses it lends to some great moments between Rachael and Kyle.
Anna Kendrick as Katie: The energy Katie brings is a nice jolt and change of pace for the film. If you’re in the therapy profession, yes, I know this 24-year-old probably is driving you nuts, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t root for her to help Adam. And maybe Adam can do the same for Katie. That’s what we call a twist everyone can see coming.
Rest of Cast: Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall are a perfect pair as fellow chemo patients with Adam. There is an honest, heartfelt camaraderie. This has been an Alzheimer’s summer with Friends with Benefits, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and now this. Serge Houde plays Richard and definitely does the most subtle and probably most accurate portrayal of the disease. Anjelica Huston’s mere presence adds weight to the role of Diane, Adam’s mom.
TALKING: It never goes to the extreme with any melodramatic moments. That’s saying something considering the subject matter. Actually, “extreme” could refer to some of the laughs. Blowjobs, getting high or even the human touch (getting slapped by a sea otter) get really nice chuckles here.
SIGHTS: There is a gloomy, great tint to 50/50. I was recently on a trip to Vancouver, B.C. Once you’ve gone, you realize how many films are shot there. 50/50 references the Northwest but never spells out where they are. I haven’t even mentioned Skeletor yet, a terribly ugly dog that Rachael brings home for Adam. Here’s another reason why Gordon-Levitt is great in this film. Watch him sit. It truly looks like work as he labors to get in a chair.
SOUNDS: “High and Dry” from Radiohead accompanies the news of Adam getting cancer. It really didn’t fit for me and completely distracted me from feeling the moment. The other songs don’t have that problem. “Crying Over You” by Roy Obirson is an oddly perfect fit when Adam takes out some anger on a piece of art. Liars “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack” truly shines in the film. I will definitely own that single.
BEST SCENE: The most emotional moment, where I was fighting back tears is when we see a book Kyle has been reading. The most amusing is when Kyle helps breakup the unhappy couple.
ENDING: Powerful. What? You thought I’d tell you if Adam dies or if he lives. Nope. You’re not getting that from me.
QUESTIONS: “High and Dry” felt so typical, right? I’m not the only one to dislike that moment, am I?
REWATCHABILITY: Yup. I saw it with friends which means I’ll be watching it the second time with my wife.
I didn’t know what to make of the beginning of 50/50 because Adam didn’t know what to make of his cancer, his relationships and his life.
This (thankfully) isn’t a story about getting cancer and finding the true meaning of life, sailing around the world, or a writing a best-selling book. It’s about dealing with a tragic situation. Rogen supports Gordon-Levitt just like a great supporting actor should. He brings a nervous, happy energy when dealing with the tragedy. We want to see Gordon-Levitt happy and Rogen is the best at making him smile, though the whole cast is truly great.
Life is hard. Cancer is hard. Relationships are hard. Family is hard. 50/50 managed to find the power in all of those things and give us plenty of laughs so we’re not simply in a ball crying. 50/50 also manages to find the “real.” It’s one of the best movies of the year.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10