Another on the list of films I’ve been making my way through this summer, and probably my favourite of the last few months, Jonathan Levine’s ’50/50′ is a beautiful, sad and hilarious film about a really difficult topic to put on screen. Led by an all-star cast of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Houston, this film tells the story of Adam, a 27 year old radio journalist who is diagnosed with schwannoma neurofibrosarcoma (a tumour in his spine). We are taken on Adam’s journey as he undergoes chemotherapy, and we meet all the characters in his life that are trying to look after him (to varying degrees of success). The film feels more like a comedy than a drama, which is strange given the severity of the subject matter, something that the film does not take lightly, but it manages to find a unique balance between the two genres that works perfectly.
I think this film needs to be watched properly, rather than just having it on and not really concentrating, because the brilliance is definitely below the surface. It would be easy to watch and see stereotypical characters: the controlling girlfriend, the lazy/comic relief best friend, the overbearing mother and the sweet girl we all know he should be with, but I think that the writer, Will Reiser, writes in such a subtle and gentle way that there are layers and layers to every character. The film is, in fact, based on Reiser’s personal experience with cancer, which means that the script feels raw, and never once overly corny or hammed up. Reiser and Levine skilfully move from comedy to drama, and we are left with a complete miracle that this film not once crosses any lines.
The star of the film is of course, the acting, which is perfect from the whole cast. Howard is thoroughly unlikeable (I mean that as a compliment to her acting) as Rachael, Kendrick is fantastic as Katherine and of course, Gordon-Levitt gives an absolute masterclass as Adam. In a year that was not a strong field at the Academy Awards, Gordon-Levitt was criminally overlooked. He plays the introverted Adam with such likeability, vulnerability and strength, that he was fully deserving of a nomination at the very least. Bear in mind, this was also a year that ‘Bridesmaids’ was nominated for Best Original Screenplay… I’m not sure what the Academy’s issue was with ’50/50′, but it feels unjust. The chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick is believable and touching. There isn’t any single big romantic scene between the two, which I appreciate as we get to see two people fall for each other subtly. Even at the emotional climax of the film, rather than a declaration of love, it’s an awkward phone call late at night. I guess that’s the true skill of this film, it’s deep, powerful emotion with very few ‘loud’ scenes. Even when Adam is about to go into surgery and is beginning to panic, there are no inconsolable tears, it’s a gulp of ‘Mom…” that is gut-wrenching. Having said that, undoubtedly my favourite moment in the film is the one moment of raw, powerful, loud emotion. After a whole film of Adam bottling up his feelings and his fears, he finally cracks and lets out a devastated, angry, terrified scream which will bring most to tears. I’ve not cried at a movie since I was about 11 and I watched ‘Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’, but that bit got me pretty close.
I tend to save the best until last in these articles, and the best bit of this film is unquestionably Seth Rogen. Not only is he his usual, outrageous, hilarious comic relief, but he plays the role of Kyle with a deep worry in the background. If you really watch Rogen’s facial expressions at parts, you’ll see that Kyle basically spends the whole movie terrified of what will happen to his best friend, and puts on an excellent front in order to keep Adam’s spirits high. Nick Nolte deserved the Oscar for ‘Warrior’ that year, but Rogen definitely deserved to be nominated alongside him, and it’s a real shame that he wasn’t recognised. After seeing him in more serious roles such as this and ‘Steve Jobs’ I really hope that he is cast more in roles like that, because I think he has enormous potential to break the perception of him as an exclusively stoner actor. Watch this film and you’ll see how talented he is.
I think this is a film everyone can watch, there’s something for everyone. Great acting, great writing, drama, comedy, romance, there really are bits for absolutely everyone. If you’ve seen it, watch it again, if you haven’t seen it, watch it, it will make you laugh, cry and at the end just be really, really happy, and isn’t that all we really want from a film?
Best scene: Adam driving the car
Best character: Katherine
Best actor/actress: Seth Rogen
Best quote: “Because you’re his girlfriend, you cheated on him, and he has fucking cancer, you lunatic!” – Kyle