50/50 (2011)

First apperances of 50/50 had it as the strongest indie comedy of the year, mixing Seth Rogen‘s undeniable comedic ability with Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s quirky cool on an unlikely, but apparently hilarious topic of cancer. Unfortunately, despite Gordon-Levitt’s best efforts, 50/50 lacks direction and remains too cool for school.

Based on real events, JGL portrays Adam, a 27-year old radio worker who learns he has cancer on his spine. His then girlfriend can’t handle it, cheats and disappears. His best friend Kyle (Rogen) uses him to score girls (the classic cancer routine, eyh?). His mom (Anjelica Huston) won’t leave him alone. Finding friendship in his cemotherapy group and with his new therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) Adam starts to manage his illness. But even with the chemotherapy the malignant tumor on his back doesn’t respond to treatment and Adam faces lifethreatening surgery.

Cancer isn’t the funniest thing on the planet is it? Still, the film works well on concept level, with 50/50 referring to Adam’s chances of survival. Finding humour in the unlikeliest of states is not a new way to approach comedy, especially when we’re dealing with this type of genre, which could best be described as hipster comedy. Continuing in the footsteps of Juno, 50/50 is certainly aimed at a particular audience, an audience that is culminated in the lead actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

His previous role in 500 Days With Summer was well-recepted both with critics and the general audience. 50/50 is no exception. It boasts with a 8.3 in iMDB and a certified fresh 93% over at RT. It seems that the 2010’s are embracing these quirky comedies that are more style than substance.

I’ve never been against mood pieces or character studies, films not aiming to deliver messages but rather portray a slice of life; the general point of 50/50 I believe. (Well I guess there are the clichéd undertones of live life to the fullest because you never know which day is your last .. what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger .. love is the most important thing.) But in my opinion the film doesn’t deliver. It’s general breezy feel gives out a few moderate laughs, but in general lacks focus.

Dramedys can often be too sweet and preachy, a gap 50/50 thankfully doesn’t fall in. Unfortunately though it’s weakness lies in the lack of charm. Lying so heavily on the shoulders of Joseph Gordon-Levitt the film never crescendos, but stays flat throughout. Only Adam’s character is built up, his family and friends remaining in the background, as the backdrop to the disease. I guess it’s difficult to steal cancer’s thunder though.

In general the film is extremely pleasant to watch, it’s easy. It never takes its topic too seriously which would’ve killed the occasional comedic edge. There’s nothing wrong with it per se.

I guess my main issue with the film is the relationship with Adam and his therapist Katherine. In my opinion Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick lack chemistry and seem more like siblings than a passionate romantic connection. With the mandatory happy ending bringing a lack of impact to the end, Katherine, as everyone suspected from the beginning sacrifices her doctorate by compromising her studies in order to go out with the guy she felt sad for. The rundown, cheated on, beaten on puppy gets the hot girl.

The film lacks any effect of surprise, and all in all is very generic and uninnovative. Someone getting cancer isn’t the easiest topic to build a comedy around, but this time it’s done with such predictability and laziness that it makes the whole feel dragged down and disappointing.

I have to admit that I had high expectations for this one, and I may be blinded by them. The matter is made worse by the general adoration and praise for a film that I found at its best mediocre.

Still, it is an extremely watchable film, that in a certain mood, would probably be funny and somewhat emotional. I just felt empty after the 100 minutes, that flew by with nothing gained.

6/10

You Will Like 50/50 If…

– you enjoyed the likes of Juno, Win Win and The Kids Are Allright.

– you’re a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

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9 responses to “50/50 (2011)

  1. Mixing humor and painful subject matter is, naturally, very difficult. The beauty of this movie is that it does so with ease, especially with such good actors in these roles as well. Good review. I hope this at least some Oscar nods, but it doesn’t seem like it will actually happen.

  2. That’s a good observation about Anna Kendrick. She kind of always has that sisterly vibe. Maybe that’s why she was so good in “Scott Pilgrim.” She needs to be someone’s sister.

  3. I enjoyed this a LOT more than you. It is probably one of my top of the year. I cried so much from start to finish. Maybe it hit more of a resonance with me than it did with you

    Nice write up though my friend

  4. Much of this film rang true for me– most of all the scene just before Adam goes into surgery. I think anyone with experience with situations of this sort (even those of less dire urgency) will probably feel at least something resonate with them. You’re right, it is breezy and light in terms of weight– except when it counts, I’d argue– but I think that’s just Levine’s thing. The Wackness felt very much the same way to me (though I enjoyed that too).

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