GRADE: 5 out of 5
I had my worries at first thinkin' 'how are they going to approach this subject matter through comedy?!' especially with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's famous R-rated brand of humor. But their friend Will Reiser (this film is based on his experiences) who wrote the script is very respectful and sensitive to the effects that cancer could have on its victims both physically and emotionally because he himself has gone through the same hell. There is only a few movies this year that give out a certain special kind of magic and 50/50 is one of them. I genuinely love this film. It's one of the best, most heartfelt buddy comedies I've ever seen..
Inspired by personal experiences, 50/50 is an original story about friendship, love, survival and finding humor in unlikely places. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star as best friends whose lives are changed by a cancer diagnosis. Rogen also serves as producer, along with Evan Goldberg and Ben Karlin. Jonathan Levine directs from a script by Will Reiser. “We worked with Will on Da Ali G show, and it was shortly after that we learned he was sick.” Rogen recalls. “As shocking, sad, confusing and generally screwed up as it was; we couldn’t ignore that because we were so ill-equipped to deal with the situation, funny things kept happening. Will got better, and when he did, we thought the best way to pull something good out of the situation was to get him to write a screenplay. Ideally we wanted to make a film that would be as funny, sad, and hopefully as honest as the experience we went through. As soon as the script was completed, it quickly became a passion project for all of us. It helped us come to terms with Will’s struggle as well as our own experiences.” 50/50 is the story of a guy’s transformative and, yes, sometimes funny journey to health. 50/50 draws its emotional core from Will Reiser’s own experience with cancer and reminds us that friendship and love, no matter what bizarre turns they take, are the greatest healers.
If you recalled, filmmaker Judd Apatow had a movie a couple of years ago called Funny People which is similar in that it was also an R-rated comedy about a terminally ill person. The huge difference is and this is probably why Funny People didn't do so well, it's because that film felt like two stories in one, it started out with friends dealing with the sickness and the possibility of dying but then it turned into a story about someone who trying to steal the woman who got away. And Apatow lost his humor in the process. Whereas 50/50 stays consistent with the focus on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character and the humor stays funny. This season, audiences are also asked to check out yet another cancer-themed film titled RESTLESS. The difference is.. Mia Wasikowska's character is already strong and positive, so it was her boyfriend who felt the frustration, fear, and anger because he wasn't ready to let her go. Once again, 50/50 stays consistent on Levitt, he's the one who feels frustrated and scared, understandably so, he's the one who feels like he's been given the unfair end of the bargain, as if life is either punishing him or not giving him a chance to make things right.
I really hope Reiser gets nominated for this original screenplay because I think the writing is strong, the dialogue is smart, witty, charming, funny and the story is deeply affecting. The characters he created have depth and the way he makes them evolve as the story progresses is done in a calm and sincere manner. None of the R-rated jokes are too outrageous, you won't be turned off by any of them. I'm a big fan of director Jonathan Levine's indie film, The Wackness which I still think didn't get the release that it deserved, but that's another story for another time. With 50/50, Levine once again proves that he knows how to work relationship and friendship stories that are grounded, and he knows how to find balance between comedy and drama.
I really hope this is the movie that would put Levitt on the same level as today's astounding young actors like Ryan Gosling for example. Levitt, as Adam, lets you see that as much he'd try to go along with his bud's agenda, as much as he'd try to befriend his psychiatrist, you can tell from his expression that a thousand thoughts keep running through his head. He could be sitting at bus stop or having sex in the bedroom but his mind would still be desperately trying to wrap his head around his condition. There's a scene in the hospital where he finally breaks down. And that scene is evidence of Levitt's strength as an actor and Levine's strength as a director I was never too crazy about Rogen as cinema's funnyman but as the best bud Kyle in this film, Rogen knocks it out of the park. Rogen understands that his character Kyle means well, he cares for Adam but he only knows his ways of showing it and that may come across as selfish when it's actually not. I don't consider it silly to call their relationship more or less a bromance situation because Adam, even when he doesn't feel like it, still tries to collect what's left of his energy to go to Kyle's social party and Kyle sits with Adam's parents for hours, waiting at the hospital, even after Adam lashed out on him the evening before. In a strange way, Kyle is Adam's rock.
There's Adam (Levitt) and Katie (Kendrick) and there's Adam and Rachael (Bryce) and then there's Adam and Kyle (Rogen). You see 3 characters react to Adam's condition. One is not sure if she should go about doing it professionally like Adam is nothing but a case study or if there's room for a more profound connection. One panics, unable to be strong enough to remain by Adam's side through the bad times. And one sees it as an opportunity, not necessarily to take advantage of the situation but more along the line of .. this is the only way he knows how to cheer up his friend. That's what I love about Reiser's script because it truthfully captures what a cancer patient goes through, that even in sickness, Adams still has to face some tough decisions about his life, but it also captures the impact that Adam's condition has on the people around him. Anytime there's a slight chance of sunshine, something happens that would remind Adam that he would soon die and that eventually drives him furious. 50/50 is a movie that understands its audience. You will exit the theaters feeling hopeful.