On paper 50/50 sounds outrageous, I mean how could someone make a light-hearted film about cancer? Doesn’t Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) know that cancer is as serious as it gets? Does he have absolutely no regard for the thousands of people diagnosed with cancer each year? How does he expect a film like this to work? Well for starters he casts Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer) and Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet) and allows them to do what may be the finest work of their careers. Levine also created a film that has the ability to affect an audience in ways that I haven’t seen in years.
50/50 is the story of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a 27 year old man that seemingly has his whole life ahead of him. He works at NPR, his girlfriend is smoking hot, and his best friend is Seth Rogen. Everything is going great until Adam finds out that he is diagnosed with a type of spinal cancer that has just the right amount of syllables to make you pass out. After a quick search on Web MD he discovers that he has a 50/50 shot at living out the rest of his life. This story of survival is enough to fill any script with heart-wrenching moments and 50/50 has its share of those, but where the film really shines is when it stays comically based in reality. While most stories like this focus on the more chilling moments of life, 50/50 knows that it’s in the brighter patches that we really shine. It’s the happier moments that stay with us all and when those moments find their way onto celluloid, that film has the chance to become something special.
Creating something special is exactly what writer Will Reiser has done, taking from moments with his own battle with cancer, Reiser has created a story that is more relatable than any other film on the subject to date. This being Reiser’s first leap onto film I’m excited to see what he could do next. He definitely has a voice and bit of subject matter to draw from. Though the writing is inspirational it’s in the delivery that it shines and that credit falls on the duo of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen.
With 50/50, Rogen continues to surprise, showing that comedy isn’t all that he can deliver. While Rogen jumps at the chance to “bring the laughs” in 50/50 he produces just the right balance to allow the film to work. In a movie about cancer this can be quite the challenge, too much and you stand to offend your audience, too little and you may leave them choking on their tears. I’m still in awe of how perfectly Rogen was able to walk this line showing that he is more than Apatow’s clown and demanding dramatic attention. While I was impressed with Rogen in Funny People, in 50/50 he confirms that he can do it all. I can’t wait to see Rogen’s “Good Will Hunting” moment, which is not a matter of if but when.
To give all the credit to Rogen would be wrong and right now in Hollywood he couldn’t be served with a better leading actor than Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt has taken his rise from (500) Days of Summer and run with it. I have to admit he’s running in the right direction, melding his talents with indie directors and finding all the right scripts. If 2011 was to end with the release of 50/50, two of Levitt’s films would have found their way on to my top ten list. 50/50 being one of those films, and rightfully so, as I found myself taken back by his performance in all aspects of the film. While Rogen provided the comedy relief Levitt was the reason the audience needed it. Holding nothing back Levitt explodes with emotion and sends you whirling between tears and laughter. To say he shines in 50/50 would be an understatement, and if you were unsure about his talents this could be the film to change your mind.
The title 50/50 fits this film well; it’s 50% drama and 50% comedy and when it comes down to it that’s just the perfect blend. While yes the film is funny don’t be surprised if you cry and laugh at the exact same moment, but that’s how life is. A series of random events that you just can’t tell what will happen next and that is where the film gets it right. Great films don’t require that stern dramatic look, sometimes it’s okay to take the stick out of your ass and laugh. That is also my biggest worry when it comes to the film, in a time when comedy is shrugged off as theater fluff a movie like 50/50 seems to lose its way. Even if a film has the ability to hold its own amongst the dramatic films of the same year, the tag of comedy is cinematic leprosy come award season.
Just look at Levitt’s last starring hit (500) Days of Summer, while the film did receive its fair share of awards and nominations it never made it to the big show. Now you can argue that there was a wider range of great films that year and I would agree, but you can’t tell me that out of the 10 films nominated for best picture that The Blind Side was more noteworthy than (500) Days of Summer.
This is the same problem that I think 50/50 will have mostly as I can hear it hailed as a “stoner cancer comedy” (Look Ma, I made a new genre!). While this film does have its moments of marijuana antics, labeling it as a stoner comedy is selling it a bit short. In a time where cancer and pot have almost grown to be one in the same, one could argue that leaving the subject out would be even more taboo. While I’m not soap boxing for equal rights for marijuana, I am standing up for a film that moved me as much emotionally as it did comically. In a year where I am finding it harder to name five movies you should see I would hate 50/50 to get lost in the shuffle.
By Ryan Davis