50/50 Review

by Mark R. Leeper (mleeper AT optonline DOT net)
October 13th, 2011

    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young man who
    has a possibly terminal case of spine cancer with
    50/50 odds of surviving. His disease transforms his relationship with people he knows, particularly his
    complete vulgarian best friend played by Seth Rogen
    and his novice therapist Anna Kendrick. Jonathan
    Levine directs a film that may be one of the year's
    best but still makes one yearn for the serious and
    uncompromising films of the 1950s and 1960s. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

In a previous age the film industry could have made for its general audience a grim and hard-hitting film like THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. That film looked at the problem of alcoholism. It is a love story too, but at the same time we know that it is a story of doomed love. We know from the beginning that it is about what happens when alcoholism destroys lives. These days we know that what the core audience is buying is films like CAPTAIN AMERICA, GREEN LANTERN, and THOR, albeit bringing in diminishing audiences. With 50/50 the filmmakers are testing the waters with a mainstream film on the subject of cancer, but sweetening the pot with raunchy comedy and a sweet boy meets girl subplot. It is not as if they are doing a good job of bringing a serious subject to Saturday night audiences, but it has become amazing that they are doing it at all. And I am sure they are paying a price for it. I know of a film fan who would not go to Disney Studio's excellent THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA or the equally good AWAY FROM HER because those have some grim and realistic elements.

Adam (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a seemingly healthy man about twenty-four years old with an attractive girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), and a best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) who is a bit crude. Make that "more than a bit." But Adam has been suffering from a backache and a visit to the doctor tells him that it is caused by a rare form of spinal cancer. Adam researches his affliction on the Internet and discovers that his odds of surviving are somewhere around 50% (hence the title of the film). Adam is prescribed a course of chemotherapy. What follows mixes comedy and high drama as his relationships to Rachael, Kyle, his mother (Anjelica Huston), and pretty much everyone he knows will now be driven by the fact that in a year Adam may no longer be alive. He gets a young therapist to help him cope Katherine (Anna Kendrick of UP IN THE AIR). She turns out to be something of a novice and is awkward around Adam, her third patient. He makes friends with two older men, both also getting chemotherapy, whom he sees at the hospital, Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer of "Max Headroom").

Gordon-Leavitt does not have what I would consider an expressive face. In INCEPTION he played the role very straight and deadpan. That may not be the most communicative acting, but here it probably works in his best interest. Adam is the sort of person who will remain bottled up inside himself until he boils over. Gordon- Leavitt is actually a good choice for Adam. Scriptwriter Will Reiser based the script on his own experience in his bout with spinal cancer. During that time he too had a tasteless best friend like the one that Seth Rogan plays. His best friend was Seth Rogan. In a sense, Rogan is playing himself, so his acting cannot really be faulted. Anna Kendrick has yet to do any powerful or impressive acting in anything I have seen her in--which is to say in this and UP IN THE AIR. She has a fresh face and manner that is pleasant to see on the screen, but it will be interesting to so if she can take on more demanding roles. If she lacks range it may not be such a grievous fault. In most of her early films Audrey Hepburn did not show much dramatic range I am aware of. She also had a fresh face and manner.

To me this film seems like a compromise with the viewing public. Your spoonful of sugar is a rollicking and a little gross comedy and a love story with attractive people. But you have to swallow down your cancer story with it. At least it is closer to the real world than THOR is. I rate 50/50 a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1306980/>
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Mark R. Leeper
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Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper

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