Film Review: 50/50

(Published in Issue 4 of my publication In Retrospect)

Directed by Jonathan Levine, 50/50 is a comedy-drama loosely based on the life of screenwriter Will Reiser.

When 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) goes to the doctors about back pain, he finds out that he has a rare type of spinal cancer, and must undergo chemotherapy in order to reduce the tumour. His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) attempts to take his mind of his life-threatening illness with alcohol, medicinal weed and sex, whilst his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) slowly starts becoming detached. As part of his recovery, Adam must also see an inexperienced psychologist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) and befriends two older chemo patients receiving treatment alongside him. But will his struggles overpower his determination to beat cancer? Or will the help of a seemingly irrelevant part of his treatment convince him to stop being selfish?

50/50 is brilliantly written, and it’s no wonder everybody is talking about it. Deceptively simple, the film is very confident and the dialogue unfolds in a largely improvised style which makes the conversations natural, and everything else felt authentic. It’s more drama than comedy, though, but too many jokes would have desensitised the plot and, whilst it never pushes for laughs, it is funny in all the right places.

Based loosely on the true story of writer Resier, a friend of the film’s co-lead Seth Rogen, 50/50 dealt with story’s theme with a brilliant honesty. For the most of the film there is a great sense of awareness towards the negative subject but, in places, it felt that it did need a bit more. For example, the scenes with Adam and the two older chemo patients were great and they provoked real emotion. But these were then contrasted against more heartless scenes like when Adam and Kyle destroyed his ex-girlfriend’s painting.

For me, this unnerving contrast was largely because of Seth Rogen‘s character who, yes is a great comedic actor, but for the first time I also found him rather unlikable. When Adam snaps at him near the end of the film, all for good reasons, nothing comes out of his lack of sympathy except that he had supposedly flicked through a book when nobody was looking. Rogen may have genuinely gone through this with Reiser at the time, but this friendship didn’t shine through in the film. Maybe it’s a man thing, though, as my male friends disagreed with me and thought that he offered great support to his best friend. Unfortunately, I didn’t see his rationality, I saw a misogynistic ignorance.

Anna Kendrick, as well, wasn’t amazing in her role. I understand that she was supposed to be young and inexperienced, but I have seen this irritable characteristic from her too far much already from her role in Twilight, in which she played a much younger character. For 50/50, I hoped that she would have portrayed more of an adult role, which you are even at 24, but unfortunately it still came off quite immature and therefore disengaging.

However, it was all about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and he was superb. Still, I’m not standing beside the substantial critical admirers. It was a good film, but I have seen better this month.

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