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50/50 (2011) Review

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Rated: R

Movies revolving cancer tend to take the dramatic route. Cancer and everything that goes along with it is a painful, heartbreaking, nerve-wrecking experience whether you are the one diagnosed or the one supporting the diagnosed. So it is interesting to see a film take a more light-hearted approach about cancer, which is an easy manipulator in most films, and end up being more dramatic and real than any recent melodrama about a person dying from a disease.

The only movie I can think of about cancer that was played for laughs was “The Bucket List” which was a decent enough film but more or less an excuse to throw Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman out of a plane. While “50/50” is mislabeled as a cancer comedy. The film does not make light of or patronize people with cancer but instead sheds light on the confusion, fear, anger and things that come with the diagnosis of a terminal disease. While Seth Rogen’s roles usually deal with man-childs who are good-natured but irresponsible, it is a welcome turn to see Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as grown-ups, who for the most part have things figured out and are thrown a curve ball.

The film revolves around Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a Public Radio employee who gets diagnosed with cancer after visiting the doctor. Adam is dumbfounded by the news. He’s young, healthy, in shape, and a good person, why would this happen to him? The rest of the film shows him and his family and friends dealing the news. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is of course the shining star of the film. A lovable everyman who gets better and more charismatic with each role he takes even though it seemed like he borrowed his wardrobe in this film from “500 Days of Summer.” Seth Rogen plays Kyle, Adam’s best friend. Rogen is a great comedic actor but rightly takes the role of the supporting best friend and produces one of his best roles in awhile. Rogen goes from sympathetic best friend to cocky, selfish asshole in essentially a more toned-down and better acted version of his character in “Funny People.” Rogen spends a majority of the film being a selfish prick, but one scene that features a revelation about his character without him saying a single line of dialogue feels entirely plausible and is one of the most teary-eyed moments in the film. The movie is never played for cheap laughs and instead invests the audiences in real characters that we can sympathize and laugh with.

While I give alot of credit to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, the movie has an outstanding female supporting cast as well. Anjelica Huston as Adam’s mother deserves a supporting Oscar for her great turn that could have been played as an overbearing comedic role and is completely grounded as a neurotic character who doesn’t know how to help her son and simply acts like any mother would in the situation. Huston and Levitt’s brief scenes together are what hit all the right dramatic notes for me and what opened up the teary flood gates for me. Bryce Dallas Howard and Anna Kendrick are also memorable. Howard has a tricky role as Adam’s icy girlfriend who wants to stay supportive but doesn’t have the nurturing personality required. Most people might write off her character as a bitchy, evil girlfriend but to me she was completely believable as a character who wants to take care of someone but just never had to. Anna Kendrick is another shining spot in the film. Much like her adorable turn in “Up in the Air” she plays a therapist who gets Adam as her 3rd patient ever. Kendrick and Levitt have great chemistry. Their scenes are bittersweet and have a romantic angle that doesn’t feel forced but pays off satisfactory. Kendrick is irresistible to watch and lights up the screen every scene she appears in.

There’s not much to say about 50/50 besides it is one of the best and most satisfying dramas/comedies to come out this year, hell i’d say even the past few years. The laughs and heartbreak feel real. The cancer is never played for cheap laughs and all the performances are extremely top-notch. The film is nothing original or thought provoking. It offers the usual themes of telling the ones we love that we love them while we can, and living each day to the fullest but the film is more of a character study than a medical drama. While it might get overlooked as another Seth Rogen vehicle or a schlocky after-school special, I can say as someone whose dealt with family members having cancer that 50/50 knew all the exact right notes to hit. Some movies use cancer as a joke or punchline. 50/50 knows that even with the anger, fear, and pain that comes with cancer, people can still have a sense of humor.

Rating: 9/10


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