Reviews

50/50

4

A weepie for people who don’t watch weepies

"Have you ever seen Terms Of Endearment?” That’s the question 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon- Levitt) uses to break the news of his cancer diagnosis to his mother (Anjelica Huston).

If you’re in the audience for 50/50, chances are your answer would be “no”. Because this is the terminal illness weepie for people who don’t watch terminal illness weepies, and it’s much the better for it.

Adam is living a normal, late-twenties life that are the stuff of Apatow-era comedies. He’s making progress in his job at a radio station and he’s just given his long-term girlfriend her own drawer. Then something very much not in the normal run of things for a 27-year-old happens; he gets diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

He must face his own imminent mortality with only the help of his wise-cracking friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) and Dr McKay (Anna Kendrick), a therapist so green she doesn’t even get a Doogie Howser reference. Which brings us back to Terms Of Endearment.

When Hollywood tackles terminal illness, it’s usually in the form of a mawkish weep-a-thon of death-bed wisdom, soaring string concertos and other tear-jerking trickery that’s about as subtle as a poke in the eye. If, in fact, a poke in the eyes seems preferable to 90 minutes in the company of Stepmom, My Sister’s Keeper or – worse luck – A Little Bit Of Heaven. Fear not;

50/50 is a very different beast. Which is not to say you should leave the tissues at home. Jonathan Levine’s film will get you, all right, but it’ll get you with uniformly excellent performances, a moving and well-deployed soundtrack and, most impressive of all, genuine emotional truths.

That’s probably because a lot of it actually is true. Screenwriter Will Reiser really was diagnosed with cancer in his twenties (he was actually 24) and Seth Rogen was the real-life annoying friend at his side.

Gordon-Levitt might be the ostensible lead – and he’s brilliant – but this is really Seth Rogen’s movie. If Superbad dealt with the problems of adolescence, Knocked Up and Pineapple Express with the problems of extended adolescence, then in 50/50 we see a character who’s finally forced to become a man. And it’s a maturing that seems to have taken place off-screen as well as on.

With nary a Judd Apatow credit in sight on his future CV, it looks like Rogen has finally broken out on his own.

Verdict:

Don’t call it a bromance. This Beaches for boys displays admirable restraint, an emotional wisdom that’s well beyond most contemporary comedies – and cancer gags to boot!

Film Details

User Reviews

    • FBSDhondt

      Nov 15th 2011, 11:26

      4

      a well balanced cancer com that'll have you laughing and crying at the same time. this got a standing ovation when I saw it at the Ghent Film Festival in September.

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    • kali119

      Nov 16th 2011, 12:39

      This movie was light, refreshing and positive. A serious issue of struggling with disease has been presnted with an optimistic note of human support. Cheerful and uplifting.

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    • debmccall

      Nov 16th 2011, 13:29

      4

      We really enjoyed the way it was done with such good humour. Turned a very grave situation into a positive one. This film will give hope to many

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    • MrMefo

      Dec 1st 2011, 12:07

      3

      50/50 is half-morbid, half-humorous; it’s half-serious, half-light-hearted; it’s half-bromance, half-rom-com. Indeed, 50/50, as the title bargains, is a movie of two halves. Loosely based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s personal experience, 50/50 presents Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a naive young writer whose happy-go-lucky existence is stopped short by the diagnosis of a Schwannoma spinal tumour (yes, that’s right, a Schwannoma spinal tumour). The Internet forecasts a worrying survival rating of 50/50 for his tumour, but with the convenient help of his skirt-chasing, beer-guzzling bro Kyle (the disarmingly charmingly podgy Seth Rogen), Adam ventures to outsmart the odds, playing with a weak hand but a strong heart. It warms even the coldest of folk. Just ask me. This is a bromance for today’s emotional bro. Its excessive sentimentality almost makes it a ‘weepie’ – but don’t worry, dude, it’s still boisterously macho. Like when Rogen encourages Gordon-Levitt to mutilate his ex- girlfriend’s artwork with eggs, blades, and a make-shift flamethrower. We first see Adam jogging and it’s symbolically fitting for a performance which warms-up before breaking into a full sprint. It successively captures (even if only sketchily) the processes of cancer, from denial to sensing injustice (“That doesn’t make any sense though. I mean… I don’t smoke, I don’t drink… I recycle.”). Each time wild fear visits his eyes, it compels you to pretend there’s something in yours. Katherine (Anna Kendrick as an endearingly naive psychotherapy student) is drafted in to comfort Gordon-Levitt, with resultingly tender exchanges and chipmunk smiles. Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall provide more comic relief as two cancer-stricken and lovin’-it old timers, as Gordon-Levitt’s cancer ‘touches’ (what a horribly gentle euphemism!) everyone. Rogen, who puts the ‘ro’ in ‘bro’, does his thing (equipped with genital hair jokes, surprise!) as laugh-s****hing to Gordon-Levitt’s tear-jerking. The initial fear that his usual over-the-top-ness will dilute the effect of the tragedy is dismissed, with even Rogen submitting a decent performance. But the direction is without nuance. Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) adopts a flag-waving methodology in order to express the contrast of his ‘cancer comedy’ movie. The old bedfellows – Humour and Morbidity – renew their volatile relationship without even looking one another in the eye (as in 2009’s Funny People). With a wink and a smile, Seth Rogen waves the flag of Humour: our cue to laugh. Ha, ha, ha. Soft acoustic string-plucking is truly the sound of Morbidity and Levine tediously evokes and re-evokes this stimulus, as we become sad, sad, sad. The comedy and the tragedy are seldom combined, leaving us with only a craving for the blurring of these lines. Laughter, as fame holds it, is the best medicine (with runners-up morpheme and marijuana close behind). 50/50 realises this but it does not allow the humour to metastasise to the grieving body. In the end 50/50 is a funny and moving film. But, without much effort, it falls short of being an important one.

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    • willow138

      Dec 3rd 2011, 2:46

      4

      In a world where 1/3 people are affected by cancer this film is a refreshing and rare piece of true life, giving a real sense of catharsis for those of us affected. If was honest and earthy whilst being incredibly funny and deeply moving. I give the film 4/5 stars and strongly recommend it.

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    • zakmccormack

      Dec 17th 2011, 20:36

      4

      Well balanced between the humour and sadness and very enjoyable.

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