Review – 50/50

I caught this at a preview screening last Thursday; due to an internet connection that suddenly decided to be Jon Snow from Game of Thrones (or, a bastard) I haven’t been able to publish the review till today. Enjoy, nevertheless.

At 27 years old, Adam is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. His first line to his mother when breaking the news is “Have you ever seen Terms of Endearment?” The irony is evident, since it’s clear from the opening few minutes that Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 is a completely different film. Yes, it’s about cancer and the way it affects those around the sufferer, but its hefty subject matter is approached in a way that is sensitive, funny and ultimately quite unique. As a matter of fact, it’s based on a true story, and the main character happens to be based on the writer himself, Will Reiser; its authenticity is therefore guaranteed.

The cast is quite brilliant and no-one underperforms. Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays Reiser with a great amount of subtlety as the cancer slowly erodes away his way of living. The foulmouthed Seth Rogen is outlandish and crude as Adam’s best friend Kyle, but in a way that is far more believable than some of his previous roles. Anna Kendrick, meanwhile, plays Katherine, an inexperienced student psychiatrist whose effervescent charm marks her as one of the better supporting characters.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is that it has a good balance between humour and sadness. It’s neither overly sentimental nor slapdash; the humour is confined, simple and overall quite hilarious. Adam’s girlfriend gets him a dog, claiming it will help him with his disease. The animal turns out to be a former racedog, named Skeletor, exceedingly thin physically, almost miserable in look; a mirror for Adam himself. Kyle begins to use his best friend’s disease in order to pick up girls; while funny at times, this part of the story

Seth Rogen gasps as Joseph Gordon-Levitt shaves his head.

is also poignant as Adam realises he cannot enjoy relationships as he once did. That’s not to say that Kyle doesn’t care. Quite the opposite; all in all, he doesn’t know how to act as he has to come to the conclusion that anytime soon his friend might die. Towards the end of the film, we feel sympathy not just for Adam, but for Kyle too, whose concern is masked beneath his relentless efforts to appear as normal as possible.

The cinematography is excellent. We see the film almost in its entirety through Adam’s eyes. When listening to his doctor’s long-winded explanation of his cancer which is laden with complicated medical terms, Adam’s vision blurs and so does the lens’. The doctor’s speech becomes little more than an extended murmur before Adam gains consciousness again. There is a later episode in a hospital corridor involving marijuana that I will not spoil for you, but suffice to say the audience was laughing out of their seats.

The simple fact that this could happen to anybody is representative of the film’s realism and adds enormously to its effect. In fact, as the credits rolled, I was filled with questions. Would any of my friends ever be diagnosed with cancer? Would I ever be diagnosed with cancer? If so, what would be the effect on the community? Would the mother of the sufferer become grief-stricken like Adam’s in the film? As these questions rolled around in my head, I left the cinema very satisfied, knowing that 50/50, a film made for just $8 million, had completely achieved its purpose.

4 stars out of 5


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