50/50 walks that fine line between drama and comedy and makes you question if it is ok to laugh about a guy dying from cancer. The film deserved more love from this yearís Oscars and features an incredible performance from its star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.This is a film that deserved multiple Oscar nominations, thanks to the superb screenplay by Will Reiser (Bridesmaids gets a nomination for best screenplay but not this film? Get real Hollywood) and the bare-bones direction of Jonathan Levine.
Along with an award-worthy performance from Gordon-Levitt, the film features Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde, Andrew Airlie, Matt Frewer, Philip Baker Hall, Donna Yamamoto, Sugar Lyn Beard, Yee Jee Tso, Sarah Smyth, Peter Kelamis, and Jessica Parker Kennedy.
The film follows 27-year-old Adam (Gordon-Levitt) who is having a good life with his great girlfriend Rachael (Howard), a good career that he loves, a house, and his best friend from high school Kyle (Rogen). After having back pain for weeks, Adam goes to the doctor and discovers he has a rare form of spinal cancer and his chances of survival are about 50/50.
Adam handles the news very well, but is sent to a counselor to discuss his feelings about the cancer. He is a bit amused when he discovers his therapist Katherine (Kendrick) has only seen two other patients before and seems to know less about what she is doing than he does about what is happening to him.
He gives his girlfriend a chance to get out of the relationship, but she says she is committed to him and he tells his over-emotional mother (Huston) Ė who is also taking care of Adamís father (Houde) who has Alzheimerís. Adam also tells Kyle Ė who seems to take the news the hardest.
From there the movie follows Adam as he attempts to fight the cancer through chemotherapy, meets fellow cancer patients Mitch (Frewer) and Alan (Hall), and attempts to deal with his feelings through therapy with Katherine. He also shaves his head and allows his pal Kyle to take advantage of his disease as a way to meet girls, smoke medical grade pot, and get laid.
Kyle truly cares for Adam, but it is sometimes hard to tell if he is there because of a want to help his friend or for the legal pot. Kyle even helps Adam through a problem with Rachel (which I donít want to spoil in a review).
After chemotherapy fails, Adamís only choice is a risky surgery to remove the tumor from his spine, and is finally forced to accept that this cancer might kill him despite the fact that he is truly a good guy.
I was extremely impressed with the talent that Gordon-Levitt brings to the screen in this film and how believable the actor makes the character. From the second the audience meets Adam, the character is instantly likeable, and you quickly get emotionally invested in his struggle with cancer. The actor takes you on the journey of a young man dealing with this disease and coming to terms with the fact his life might be over before it has a chance to really start.
There are incredibly powerful scenes between Adam and Katherine as he finally lets all the stress boil over and between Adam and Kyle the night before his surgery Ė which could leave him dead on the table. Even some of the coldness he shows Rachel is understandable, and you cheer for him during a certain scene on his front porch.
Kendrick is equally good in the film and deserved an award nomination. She seems very overwhelmed with wanting to help Adam deal with his cancer, but not knowing exactly how to do it.
She also questions her own ability as a therapist to deal with patients on this level of life and death. Throw in feelings that she develops for Adam, and Kendrick brings a character to the screen that just comes across as real.
Although the film is about Adamís cancer, I also appreciated Houdeís subtle performance as Adamís father. The character seems to be towards the end stages of Alzheimerís and is therefore mostly unaware of what is happening with Adam.
Houde plays the part to the fullest by constantly introducing himself to Adam and making remarks that donít fit the situation (such as mentioning he got a new jacket to Adam minutes before his surgery.
At the same time, the actor lets Adamís father seem to have some small moments of recollection and caring about Adam, and he does it without saying very much.
If the film has a weakness for me, it is in Rogen. I have never been a fan of the actor so it could be just me, but I felt most of his lines came off as forced and he seemed a tad out of place. By the end of the movie, it is clear that the character truly loves his friend and wants to be there for him, but Rogenís performance makes you work to like the guy.
Since he is playing a type of character willing to take advantage of his friendís cancer to get girls, I guess you arenít supposed to instantly like the guy, but Rogen seems to try and force some of the filmís laughs rather than letting it just flow.
Levine does a very good job in the directorís chair and seems to let the movie almost feel like a documentary. At times, the camera just seems to be following Adam (such as the scene where he shaves his head) rather than trying to frame a scene for a movie with multiple angles and edits.
I really liked this approach to the movie, and the quiet way Levine and Reiser let their characters develop over time. Nothing feels rushed in this film, and all the characters are fully fleshed out and are important to the story.
The Blu-ray comes with some great special features including a look at how the story came to be (where we meet the people who inspired Adam and Kyle and the true story behind the movie); deleted scenes, a look at Adam and Kyle destroying a painting (again trying to stay as spoiler free as possible); and commentary.
50/50 is one of 2011ís best films and deserved more recognition from this yearís award season. Everyone in the film is at the top of their game, and Gordon-Levitt gives one of the best performances of his career. This is a movie that has plenty of laughs (which might seem odd given its subject), but also plenty of heart. It is easy to highly recommend this film.
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