Film in Review: 50/50 Beat the Odds with a Perfectly Balanced Film

Film in Review / September 30, 2011
Anna Kendrick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in 50/50.

Anna Kendrick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in 50/50.

50/50 is a hard film not to fall in love with. It combines the perfect amount of gut-busting humor with heart-wrenching drama to provide one of the most emotionally satisfying films of the year.

It’s like a Terms of Endearment by-way-of 40-Year-Old Virgin vehicle that vehemently adheres to the philosophy that “laughter is the best medicine.”

It takes that idea to the next level by combining the crude, yet effacing comic relief of Seth Rogen with the unrelenting and naturalistic charm of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The film, based off of the real life experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser and his unexpected battle with cancer, stars Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a fit, neurotically healthy 27-year-old whose life becomes dramatically shattered when he’s diagnosed with potentially life-threatening cancer.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50.Photo Credit: Chris Helcermanas-Ben.

Amid his calm and sunny disposition of the situation, he’s more at battle with how it affects his relationships with his closest loved ones: his overprotective, high-strung mother (Anjelica Huston), the awkward and forced obligation for his newish girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) to stay by his side, and of course his foul-mouthed, pig-headed best Kyle (Seth Rogen), who doesn’t quite know how to handle the situation.

At first, Adam seems the most capable and clear-headed about the situation. His mother, of course, wants to move in with him and care for him hand and foot (she is already taking care of his Alzheimer’s-stricken father), but Adam wants none of that.

He calmly sits down with Rachael and tells her that if all of this is too much to handle, he has no hard feelings if she wants to bail, but she agrees to stick with him and care for him during his chemotherapy treatments.

Perhaps the most dynamic and driving relationship throughout the film is Adam and Kyle’s friendship.

While at first panicked and overwhelmed, Kyle quickly assumes camaraderie with his best friend and treats him as if nothing is wrong. He eventually tries to get Adam to exploit his illness for their own sexual gain, yet even at his most arrogant and selfish, Kyle’s loyalty is always with his friend, even when things break down between the two.

Although the film’s most developed and poignant story arcs shine through with the two new relationships Adam strikes up during his treatment, one with a group of ‘regulars’ at his weekly chemotherapy sessions, and that with his therapist, the young, terse and naive Anna Kendrick.

At his chemotherapy sessions, Adam is traversed through the hardships and life views of living with a life-threatening disease with his session buddies Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer) in what is some of the film’s most raw and emotionally gripping scenes. The dynamic between the three characters feels real and exposes screenwriter Will Reiser’s most vulnerable emotions during his treatment, containing the film’s most devastatingly poignant moments.

What works best with 50/50 is the carefully balanced comedy that keeps the depressing, heart-wrenching at times, mood at bay. It achieves such a nuanced and perfect balance that it becomes a hard film to be too critical of.

Despite this, the one fault I found within the realm of 50/50 was the villainous, cruel characterization of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character. Although clearly overwhelmed with the circumstances of Adam’s situation, her character arc could have been much more effective if handled with a much less severe approach.

Still, combined with a stellar and talented cast at the top of their game, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again proving that he can dominate any role he’s put into, 50/50 is a smart, funny, and polarizing exploration of life, love, and friendship.


Overall Grade: B+


50/50 opens today in theaters everywhere, click here  for theaters and showtimes.

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Matt Cohen
Matt Cohen
Matt is currently obsessed with Rap Snacks, post-hardcore, pizza parties, and Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

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Film in Review: 50/50 Beat the Odds with a Perfectly Balanced Film