50/50: The Only Film to Ever Make Me Cry
Dir. Johnathan Levine
Prod. Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Ben Karlin
Written By. Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogen,
Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas-Howard
Running time: 100 mins
A film where we know the main character gets an aggressive cancer with a one in two chance of survival. This is not Terms of Endearment; we do not have to skate around it.
This movie is based on the writer, Will Reiser’s own experience. It stars the fantastic rising talent of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, and the ubiquitous Seth Rogen as his best friend Kyle (a role said to be based on Rogen himself)
Adam is a kindly, hard-working, loving, and cautious young man living and working in the city of Seattle at a public radio station. He lives with his girlfriend, kind of, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who is, to no surprise, playing a character we are not supposed to like.
We are introduced to Adam and his character in a sledgehammer metaphor where we see him jogging on a deserted street. He waits patiently at the “Don’t Walk” sign while other joggers rush past as there is no traffic in the vicinity. As the sign changes to “Walk” we see him take off. We also see him holding his back.
He works with his best friend, the much more relaxed, funny, and pop-culture reference - soaked Kyle. He frustrates Adam at work, making him late, messing around, although they are still very close.
Very quickly we see him go to the doctors and is told he has cancer somewhat abruptly. As a Brit, I find it hard to imagine it done this way, as in the UK you are advised to bring a relative and would never be told in such a way. The aloof and professionally crass doctor informs him of his tumour, which takes him aside, and yet it is not until he utters the word “cancer” that Adam goes into a daze, and as he leaves, the use of Radiohead’s fantastic “High and Dry” is inspired. Just excellent. The only downside is it is mirrored to the same scene in the 2009 Judd Apatow film, Funny People, when Adam Sandler’s character is given similar news. Both movies star Seth Rogen, who is a collaborator with both writers. Although, how varied can that sort of scene be? Certainly, more so, different song but far too alike.
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He tells his girlfriend, who is very upset and vows to stand by him, yet it is when he tells his mother that this movie truly starts to show its depth. Firstly, the star, somewhat literally, and in merit, is the fantastic Anjelica Huston as his mother. Showing absolute craft as the established member of the cast, but she deserves it. She is controlling, erratic, and protective. She is unapproving of his painter girlfriend and her artwork, the scene when he announces it to her, as well as the complication of having a father deep in the throes of Alzheimer’s (the focus on which is something Seth Rogen is very well known as a vocal advocate of). There are some clever and relatable insights shown. We will all recognise something as being how we would expect our loved ones to deal with it were it to be us in that situation.
The news settles. His best friend, Kyle, throws a work party for him which does two things. Firstly, it reminds us how disgusting Seth Rogen can be. I mean that morally. In a world of Me Too his characters still somehow constantly display consequence-free exploitation of women using some pretty gross techniques. Yet because he is the bumbling likable goof from Knocked Up it is not taken seriously. Secondly though, it hilariously deals with the reactions of people and the crass things terminally ill people hear. It is painfully genuine. Brilliantly done.
After another piece of manipulative exploitation of a pretty girl by Kyle, we see a moment between him and Adam and Adams girl, and it is just true entertainment. No spoilers, but it is one of those little gems that we watch films for.
A blossoming friendship grows with his rookie therapist, played very sweetly by the gifted and often underused (Twilight) Anna Kendrick. Post dental work. I hope she does not get the Jennifer Grey curse.
Mature realisation is forced on him quickly, as he starts to realise and accept the 50/50” situation. The delightful way he works around to his mother and remembering why she is how she is and why he has to do better with her, they visit the doctor together, she again shows she is brick, cement, lintel, door, and welcome mat of this movie.
They decide on surgery, and in a scene that is the most emotionally tearing thing I ever saw, he goes in for the anesthetic, and it is golden artwork. Every character has a route and they take it in this scene with aplomb and beauty. Adam with his cracking voice unveils a cacophony of gut-wrenching and tear-jerking interaction. The heartfelt reaching out to his bumbling father, reassuring him at a time as this shows Adam as the truly good person he is.
He finally shows his heart, after this, his tenderness and fear, all at once, rage was spent long ago, and the soundtrack, the song ‘The Other Side of Mt Heartbreak’ by Liars is just gorgeous to imbibe. As is said, I have never cried at a film, never understood it, until this film. I do not mean a tear or two, I mean full on sobbing.
This movie tries to avoid cliché where it can but does the service to such a tragic theme in remembering that what is sentimental and repeated is often done so because it is the way things are. Remembering that cliché and hyperbole does not always have to be pejorative. It takes a unique spin where it can, yet it remains heartfelt and believable, not trying to be ground-breaking or to show that it looks at it in a unique and commendable but unorthodox way (Gallo), and isn’t it oh so fucking brave for doing that?”. Truly the world is tired of smug hipster turds who think if something is different that makes it automatically good. There are teenage emos who can at 14 see through such ploys made by so-called established directors. Pretentious is also not always a negative term. It is in this sense though.
So how to sum it up. It is funny, the cast are perfect for the roles they play, I have not said much for the ever-teeth clenching Bryce Dallas-Howard as the scarlet woman. One could feel sorry for her as she is either a hellbent vampire (Twilight) or a racist bully that is forced to eat a black woman’s faeces (The Help) but the thing is it suits her so well. There is almost a cheer in all of us when she tries to worm her way back in with Adam, and it fails, and as for the post-gallery opening scene…. blissful. I imagine idiot fop apologists will cite a negative female influence and they need to be thrown into a threshing machine. It is a very balanced movie.
As said, Anna Kendrick is great, vulnerable, tough, ballsy, and cute as they come. You want to see her in a cage, see I told you I was a feminist. The stars are the lead, Joseph-Gordon-Levitt and the amazing veteran Anjelica Huston, she just shows up as a Yoda of filmmaking, and I would dare say the relatively young cast would have been in awe of her.
So, the film is called 50/50 and I said it made me sob, so I can say no more, no final spoilers.
It is far from perfect. There are a few clumsy moments, the outcome of Adams work project is something I feel was all added last minute and we could have done without, but this is all minor and not comparative.
One thing I have glossed over is the endearing and tragic friendship developed between Adam and his chemo/weed buddies Alan, and Mitch (played by Matt Frewer and Philip Baker-Hall). It is not huge but is undeniably a truly sweet addition to this movie.
It is on Netflix. If you and your partner are looking for a pleasant film to watch together that you will both love and be moved by, this is for you. It looks from the trailers like a light-hearted affair, and in parts it is, but do not watch with your pals before a night on the town. Think of it as a weepie that is self-aware. Think of it as a buddy movie with emotional depth, think of it as whatever, but if you watch it you will think about it. That is a cert.
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