Just when I didn’t think I could love Joseph Gordon-Levitt more…
In Jonathan Levine’s 2011 film 50/50, Adam is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. As the 27-year-old struggles with the implications, comedy and heartache ensue. 50/50 is a film about the relationships that come to matter the most.
When death is staring you in the face, or insinuating itself rather painfully in your spine, you will learn who your friends and family are. For the 27 year-old hipster male, you know you can depend on your best male friend, and your mother. The girlfriend and father, you ask? The Girl(s): beautiful, messy, incapable of the emotional-attention-span required, uncomfortable with natural physical affection, and driven by self-interests. The Father: untouchable and lost; trapped in another world and its own concerns.
Okay, not all the girls in the film fit the above description; a few do not even achieve this level of consideration. Not unlike Seth Rogen’s character Kyle, some girls just want to get laid. These are modern times after all. And they are (uncomfortably) disregarded.
The women in the film are not easily disregarded. Because ANJELICA HUSTON plays the mother. And because Adam’s mother rises beyond cliché with a biting bid for perspective. Adam would be seen as wholly independent, not needing his mother to take care of him, even after he is diagnosed, treated, and incredibly vulnerable. But sometimes you need to need people–for both your sakes.
Holding hands with the realization that everything is not fine—Adam could very well die–is the realization that his relationship with friends/family also change. The realizations, the changes, are not his alone. While Gordon-Levitt easily commands the gaze, he isn’t the only one affected; the revelations quietly crescendo with a shift of focus.
50/50 is, in large part, a Bromance, as expected from the trailer and the poster. And with the “ it takes a pair to beat the odds” tagline, the sexual humor is as anticipated. Seth Rogen channels Michael Cera in the delivery of honesty/self-deprecation. He is one of the main sources of comedy, and no matter how vulgar in delivery, his subject matters are hardly negligible. And the healthy young male persona of Kyle, blithe and gregarious, is artfully juxtaposed with a cancer-ridden young male, responsible and introverted. Of course, the characters are hardly so singularly dimensional. Nor is their friendship plastic; it proves the most sincere and sweetest part of the film. Of all the many bromantic films flooding our anxiety-ridden culture, 50/50 is well worth your while.
50/50 is subjective via Adam’s perspective, 3rd person limited. It would follow him from a few routine mornings to diagnosis through to a — close of day. This non-“documentary” film, however much it longs to document one man’s cancer story, sheds the objective and stays emotionally close, ever intent on facial expression without blatant close-ups. The camera’s lens work is a bit distracting, especially at the beginning. People come in and out of focus slowly. It’s like me trying to work the zoom while filming on my Sony at home. Any question of the purpose of this is answered in Adam’s leaving the hospital, high after his first chemo treatment. The camera is wholly sympathetic to Adam’s view of the world, even as it rarely (if ever) inhabits his actual point of view. The slightly unfocused aspect lets off eventually. I am guessing it is due more to necessity than a change on the part of the character (at least until I am able to watch 50/50 again). If the filming were to continue as it had, the addition of tears in the audience’s eyes, would have made the screen completely indecipherable. And there will be tears, the actors and the soundtrack will guarantee it.
The soundtrack is lovely enough to forgive the few moments where the film sinks into a music video’s narrative sense (i.e. exiting coffee shop). I would have loved to have heard more Seattle-area-based bands, but I was happy as any Garden State fan would be.
The costuming (by Carla Hetland), subtle in this drama, is gorgeously handled. Anna Kendrick’s character Katherine is a lovely transition of the button-up professional to the casually plunging neckline of a love interest. Adam moves from his Mr. Rogers (cardigan) and/or starched shirt, tucked in, belted attire, to relaxed and at ease in a t-shirt. Notably, Adam is as neatly put together as his surroundings, as is Kyle; but the women are well-groomed regardless.
I highly recommend seeing Jonathan Levine’s 50/50, and that you have kleenex on hand. While the film is indeed very funny, it has some incredibly sad moments. Yes, you would think that the fact cancer is involved would have prepared me with something other than the abrasive napkins dispensed by the snack counter, but really… 50/50 pulls the viewer in and under its spell; I mean, I was well aware I was mirroring smiles and crying on anticipatory cue, but I couldn’t help it, nor did I want to. I was really enjoying this movie that much. Leave yourself in the cast and crew’s capable hands.
Roger Ebert’s Review: wherein he shares some of the background to this based on true events film, among other things.
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Written by Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston
Music by Michael Giacchino
Cinematography Terry Stacey
Editing by Zene Baker
Produced by Evan Goldberg, Ben Karlin, Seth Rogen
Running Time 100 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, and some drug use