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50/50 (2011)

Josh Reviews 50/50

October 21st, 2011
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In 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a young man who is diagnosed with cancer.  (His physician gives him a 50/50 chance of survival, hence the title of the film.)  While his relationship with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) is rocked by this news, Adam finds surprising strength from his buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen).  50/50 was written by Will Reiser and, as has been widely reported, is based on Mr. Reiser’s real-life experience of being diagnosed with cancer in his twenties, and his friendship with Seth Rogen.

Balancing comedy and drama in a film can be a very tricky thing, especially when true-live events come into play.  I thought about this issue last month after watching 30 Minutes or Less, a film about a young pizza boy (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who is kidnapped and has a bomb strapped to his chest, at which point he is forced to rob a bank to get money for his kidnapper.  That situation actually happened to a poor fellow back in 2003 (although the filmmakers claimed not to have been inspired by that incident).  Still, the parallel with real life events (that ended tragically) give the film a tension that runs throughout.  Sometimes I felt that helped the film, in that the story-line felt dangerous in a way that kept me engaged.  Other times I felt that hurt the film, in that it occasionally felt hard to laugh too hard at events that I know, in real life, ended up in a death.

Over-all I enjoyed 30 Minutes or Less, but compared to 50/50 that film feels like a fairy trivial, superficial lark of a movie.  50/50 aims for something deeper, and while it doesn’t always succeed, I really enjoyed the filmmakers’ ambition in crafting a story that is very, very funny, while also tackling some serious issues about mortality and friendship.

Yes, 50/50 is a comedy about cancer.  I suspect that topic kept many people away from this film, but I’m glad I saw it.  The film was directed confidently by Jonathan Levine (who also helmed the little-seen film The Wackness which I really loved), and more than just the presence of Seth Rogen reminds me of the work of Judd Apatow.  The focus on the friendship between guys, and the willingness of the film to mine comedy from tough real-life situations are all aspects I’ve really enjoyed in Mr. Apatow’s work.  50/50 is able to find that tricky balance of tone, allowing us to laugh along with the story while also engaging with the characters and their struggles.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been on quite a hot-streak lately (in films such as (500) Days of Summer and Inception[continued]