Wednesday 30 November 2011

Review: 50/50

Year: 2011
Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenplay: Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick

Synopsis is here

There's always a chance that the something like 50/50 could have played out terribly. While I rather enjoyed Funny People I could easily see so many people viewing it as another typical Adam Sandler flick and avoid it like the plague. Sandler, Seth Rogan and Cancer? Not a what many are looking for in terms of films me thinks. While I did have a good time with that particular movie; the films humour being the most appealing to me, the characters were not as lucky. The film flip flopped in tone and there was an issue with length that should have been addressed.

50/50 has been labelled in certain areas as the "cancer comedy" in a similar, almost derogatory way that The Social Network was labelled "the facebook film". Such laziness explain the film in the most base manner and seem to actually do more to turn people off than get them to watch. It'll be a shame if people avoid 50/50 due to such simplistic descriptions (or a second appearance of Seth Rogan in a similar film) because the film's view of cancer is a sensitive one. It appears that a character (Rogan's) has a particularly vulgar attitude towards the whole thing and yet that ignoring his character arc due to taking everything he says at face value. A small but telling moment involving Rogan's Kyle says all you need to know abut his behaviour. While the role is slightly typecast, it is played out without some of the odd tonal shifts and expectations that some of the characters in Funny People. 50/50 works better as a comedy drama because it gets the balance right. When the film is funny (maybe save the trippy first chemo sequence) it's very funny. It notices the awkwardness of how we act  in certain situations and grounds the humour well. It doesn't "go dark" for the sake of it, instead finding laughs in the people we see.

The smaller moments stand out in 50/50 a lot more than some of the more grand ones. A sequence involving a revel in a relationship is played out for awkward laughs and it does work (as do the various pop culture references within the film) but doesn't hit the same heights as the more intimate moment involving a fellow cancer sufferer (Matt "Max Headroom" Frewer no doubt) and his wife sharing a small kiss. It's not much, but there's a sincerity within those moments that seems to stem from a true place. Writer Will Reiser (the true story the film is inspired by) has a screenplay which features such slight observations that if one wasn't paying attention you could miss how they build the story. The film shows illness as what can be, a state of humdrum and limbo. A short montage of people asking those typical, basic questions and tending to the topic on eggshells is captured in perfect awkwardness. An unfortunate side plot involving Bryce Dallas Howard's Rachael (who seems to be getting some bitchy roles as of late) and Levitt's Adam character works not because Rachael is pompous and self centred (although there's more than a hint that she could be) but because when it comes to those tough moments where her role has to make more of a stand than is usually asked for, her age, emotions and reluctance appear to stem more from the difficulty of the situation above all else.

That the film suffers from the character of Adam being a tad too "fine" with everything, is an unfortunate aspect. When Levitt has to show true anguish, he does so well but the character at times feels quite laid back and the film itself feels slightly disjointed. While of course learning that one has cancer could perhaps give such a feeling, the film sometimes has the effect of small vignette's than a whole. I must also state that the feel nearly wastes the brilliance of the likes of Phillip Baker Hall and Anjelica Huston who light the screen with their small but perfectly formed performances.

Hollywood is an industry that loves to concentrate on youth. It's no surprise that we get films that seem to connect with the main target audience are ones such as Twilight (topping the charts as we speak). 50/50 asks us to stop and look at the briefness of our own mortality even at such a young age. That the film manages to do this well and provide some solids laughs without being truly offensive is a plus.