Movie Review: 50/50

I know a lot of people don’t like the film Funny People.  It tried to merge drama and comedy in a very alarming way, and it sort of muddled that line for two and a half hours.  I liked Funny People, and think it deserves more credit than it receives, but even I will agree that it never quite hit what it was supposed to do.  It was missing something in its tone and/or attitude that made it never quite be the film it wanted to be.  I think 50/50 accomplished everything Funny People actually wanted to achieve, and did it in an hour less time.

I don’t think a dramatic comedy has ever been done as well as 50/50.  I think a lot of the other films of this genre fall into traps of being funny, then being serious, then being funny again; the whole time making abrupt tonal shifts and unnatural moments of sincerity.  50/50 works so well because the comedy ends up benefiting the drama, and vice versa.  Not so much an alternating mix as it is a natural feeling blend.  When things get uncomfortably real, then it lays on some humor almost as a defense mechanism.

This whole film stems from a very personal, and true story from Will Reiser.  It felt like a story that someone actually cared about making, as opposed to 90% of things that get released in theaters.  A personal film made for only $8 million dollars.  Can’t we get more of these made?  I don’t want to get into a thing about money right now, but that terrible looking Daniel Craig movie that also came out this weekend, Dream House, cost $50 million.  And it looks like a screenplay someone might have found on the floor of a public bathroom.  Just saying.

The great story is complimented significantly by the cast.  Joseph Gordon Levitt does a near perfect job playing Adam, the cancer infected hero.  It’s a non cliche performance, where the effects of his cancer are played out not so much by his physical deterioration, but more so in how he reacts to the people around him.  While it’s a personal struggle for Adam, the supporting cast help shape the Adam character into something worthwhile.

Anna Kendrick basically plays a less robotic version of the character she played in Up in the Air.  A wanna-be professional with problems of her own.  She does a good job adding some tenderness in contrast with Seth Rogen’s vulgarity.  I’m sure a lot of people dislike Seth Rogen because he almost always plays himself, but the character he’s playing in this movie is actually based on himself, as he was the writer’s actual friend who helped him get through his cancer.  So seeing Rogen play Rogen makes perfect sense here.  And the humor he brings to the film is not only hilarious (and true to how 27 year old dudes actually talk to each other), but as it turns out, the jokes are used as an attempt at healing his friend.  Let me just say that by the end of the film, you realize that a lot of the seemingly bad intentions of Rogen’s character are actually justified and meaningful.  Bryce Dallas Howard plays the least realistic character in the whole film, but still a necessary one.

Angelica Huston as the mother was a very eerie performance for me.  She played a character almost identical to my actual mom.  They even dress the same and have similar haircuts.  And the relationship with Adam and her was nearly identical to my relationship as well.  It was one of the most relatable characters I’ve possibly ever seen in a movie.  When Huston says the line “I smother him because I love him”, I couldn’t even laugh because I could see my mom saying the exact same line.  Hit a little close to home, there!

I thought 50/50 was a great movie throughout, but the final 30 minutes were incredible to me.  I became so attached to the characters, and cared so much about what was going to happen to them, that it became an intensely emotional experience for me.  I knew he was going to survive the cancer because it’s a true story and Reiser obviously lived to write about it.  But still, going through all the motions in the end hit me really hard.  When the doctor comes out of the surgery room to give the news to Adam’s friends and family, it was such an amazingly real moment of joyful emotion that it made my eyes water up.  Seth Rogen made a slight joke that wasn’t even all that funny at this moment, but I laughed loudly at it just because I was so happy that Adam was going to be fine.  Then by the time that they are making a Total Recall joke in the final scene of the film, I’ve been such an emotional wreck from the whole movie before it that I’m now laughing hysterically at the normalcy of it all in the end.  It was such a great feeling to have such a strong, heartfelt reaction to a positive ending, as opposed to how a film of this subject matter would normally end…  Kudos to the filmmakers for pulling that off.

I was thoroughly impressed with everything done here from Michael Giacchino’s music score to the acting to the directorial choices (this is a big step up from Jonathan Levine’s previous effort, The Wackness).  50/50 wasn’t trying to make some sort of vague, pompous statement about life and death *cough*Tree of Life*cough**cough*.  It never tried to be anything more than it was.  It’s just a compelling tale of how to live in the wake of horrible news, and not let the cancer be the only thing that makes you who you are.  It almost felt like his regular problems (like girls, his family, etc) were still his main problems, only they were amplified by his cancer.  Maybe you won’t have as emotional a journey watching 50/50 as I had, but I’m confident to say that I think *most* people will find great value in this film as well (like 8 out of 10 people I’m saying).  Even the old lady I was sitting two seats away from in the theater warmed up to Seth Rogen’s vulgarity by the end of the film, and was laughing at his jokes, because it makes sense to.  The only way to get through such a somber tale is by laughing about it.  Hey, what do ya know, that’s the point!

9.5 out of 10

5 thoughts on “Movie Review: 50/50

  1. Marshall says:

    I agree with this review. I saw the movie on Friday and can’t stop thinking about how much I loved it. You are right in that the humor and drama are intertwined believably. Humor is a complicated thing that never goes away even (especially) in emotional, troubling times.

    I think my favorite part was how deep all of the characters were. I think that the Bryce Dallas Howard was still a very believable character despite (because of) the horrible things she did. All of the characters were very 3-dimensional, much like Piranha 3D.

    I was struck the hardest emotionally when he was getting his IV drip. That moment was incredible.

    (I want to make a mom joke about how I thought that Angelica Huston looked familiar, but I will take the high road)

    Great review. Greater movie.

    • scottodactyl says:

      “I was struck the hardest emotionally when he was getting his IV drip. That moment was incredible. ”

      Dude… totally… That was insanely intense, almost uncomfortable to watch, just how brutally emotional that 2 minute scene was. Kind of want to go see it again in theaters, but maybe I should let it soak in for a while and save the replay for Blu-ray.

      And I would have accepted a mom joke, this is actually one of the most reasonable situations to do it. It could have been your golden moment. Golden MOMENT, not golden shower. Golden shower is something personal between your mom & I.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Mixing humor and painful subject matter is, naturally, very difficult. The beauty of this movie is that it does so with ease, especially with such good actors in these roles as well. Good review. Check out my review when you get a chance.

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