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Grab Bag Review: '50/50' – It Isn’t Half Bad!

I’m not a huge fan of cancer flicks or films where people are dying dramatically from an illness or disease. Call me crazy but I like to go to the movies to escape reality, not face it. I will admit that there were a few over the years that were really good movies although extremely depressing (i.e.: Beaches, Philadelphia, Terms of Endearment, Stepmom, etc.) which I enjoyed. Sure they were tearjerkers but the actors in those films gave some stellar performances that ended up with them receiving nominations, if not a gold statue. I won’t ruin the endings to those movies but let’s just say a few of the main characters face some MAJOR challenges before the end. I cannot include 50/50 in that same category, not because it’s a bad film (because it isn’t), but because it’s just not that depressing, and that’s a good thing!

Synopsis of 50/50:

25-year-old Adam Schwartz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lives a nice and simple life. He has a beautiful girlfriend named Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) and works at a museum with his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) who complicates his life in annoying but humorous ways.

However, he is soon diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. Considering his young age and healthy lifestyle, Adam has a hard time believing this is happening to him. With no other choice, he decides to start chemotherapy and fight for his life. He breaks the news to his parents, friends and Rachel, who all support him.

To get his mind off of things, Adam begins seeing Katie (Anna Kendrick) a cute 26-year-old medical student who is helping him cope with the psychological side effects of chemo. As time goes on and his vitality and health slowly fade, Adam comes to terms with his life and illness. While fighting the cancer he begins to appreciate what he has in life, especially the things he took for granted before his battle. (IMDB)

After reading the synopsis you may think this is a really heavy movie, but it isn’t. If I had to classify 50/50 it would definitely fall into the “Dramedy” category. This film did a great job at keeping things lighthearted without going overboard with poop jokes or something (which I was expecting since Seth Rogen is in it). It had an original script and a fresh take at telling a story that all too many people have dealt with or deal with on a daily basis.

The acting in 50/50 has some strong performances and a few weak ones, but overall they balance out quite nicely and don’t let you down. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job as “Adam” who is fighting his cancer. He’s a normal guy, albeit on the sensitive side, who is just trying to deal with his situation the best way he knows how, by just moving forward. I think that his performance captured the feelings of what anyone in a similar situation would do. There is a point towards the end where “Adam” just loses it and I think that any of us would probably react the exact same way if we were faced with the challenges he was. Was Gordon-Levitt’s performance good enough to grant him a nomination for anything? I’d be surprised if he was. Sure, he’s a great actor but I didn’t feel like he jumped out in this performance. I still feel like I’m watching a kid on screen and he hasn’t made the jump to male lead yet for me. That doesn’t make his acting bad or this role a let down, it just means I think he has yet to hit his stride and that there is another role out there that he has yet to knock out of the park.

The lighthearted comic relief in this movie obviously comes from Seth Rogen who plays “Kyle”, the best friend to “Adam”. Seth Rogen pulled way back for this role and wasn’t nearly as offensive or obnoxious as he has been in previous films. The pot smoking in this film was warranted as he tried to help his buddy get through his sickness. Was “Kyle” distinguishable enough from Rogen’s previous roles in other movies? Probably not, but there was a new level of tenderness that he brought to the role that I hadn’t seen before that made me smile. The friendship between the two men is not only believable and honest but reminded me atoledo of the way some of my friends and I have acted towards each other in the past. Rogen’s best scene (and probably one of the best in the film) comes when he tells “Adam” that he just saw his girlfriend “Rachel” at an art opening kissing another man. He not only calls the girlfriend out on her shit but he tells her exactly how he feels about her, something I think any guy has wanted to do to his buddy’s girlfriend at one time or another. It was sheer joy to watch that scene and I loved it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rogen was nominated for this for some kind of award, maybe not an Oscar, but something else possibly.

The other strong performances in 50/50 comes from Anjelica Huston (of course) who plays the perfect worrisome mother to “Adam”. There are a few scenes, one particularly at the end that knocks it out of the park. Wholly realistic, this film wore its emotions on its sleeve. The weak performances come at the expense of the female leads unfortunately (with the exception of Huston obviously). “Rachel” (Bryce Dallas Howard) was fun to hate as “Adam’s” cheating girlfriend but just didn’t do it for me this time. “Katie” (Anna Kendrick) on the other hand was interesting and entertaining but by the end of the film I was saturated by her sweetness and left to feel that the role was cast too young.

Cinematically I have to say 50/50 did a good job of moving the plot along without drowning the viewer into a visual depression. There was one scene where “Adam” is walking as he’s high from eating pot and the shot is out of focus and fuzzy to resemble the feeling he’s having. A little over the top but I’m probably just being picky. There were also a couple thunderclouds and a lot of rain and gray sky. I always cringe just a little when there is thunder in a movie because it’s always foreshadowing an upcoming negative event, and it’s such a shameless and easy way for the filmmaker to do it.

As a whole I have to say 50/50 wasn’t half as bad as I thought it was going to be but could’ve been a bit better. It never really reached Terms of Endearment level for me in terms of emotional response, but it was entertaining nonetheless. I’m sure someone in this movie will get some recognition and that wouldn’t surprise or upset me. As an ensemble the cast was fun to watch and eclectic. The script was also original and engaging, I never really could predict what was going to happen next and when things moved along in the plot it was done naturally and believably.

If you have a hard time watching movies where people are dealing with serious illnesses then this is the movie for you. It’s not too serious and you’ll leave with dry eyes, no needless crying in this one.

4 out of 5 bags

About the author

Sam Olecki

Sam is a certifiable smart-ass and Southern California native raised on the sarcastic and jaded L.A. smog. He received a B.A. in Film and Electronic Media from Long Beach State University focusing on Screen Writing, Film Theory, and alcohol. Sam studied improv with The Groundlings, performed in local theater, and has watched a lot of movies. When Sam isn't writing for GBC he likes to eat out and write reviews on Yelp.com, go running, watch the KTLA morning news, and play with his puppy.