Movie Review: 50/50

Mike Finkelstein just went on an emotional roller coaster ride, and for the first time ever, teared up in a movie (don’t tell anyone…).  Here is his review for “50/50”.

PLOT: Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young, healthy 27-year-old with a good job and a beautiful girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard).  However, all of that is turned on its head when he finds out he has a rare form of cancer, and only a 50/50 chance of living.  This is the story of his battle, with the help of his best friend (Seth Rogan), mother (Anjelica Huston), and a young, inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick).

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  To have cancer in a drama is one thing.  You show all the pain and heartbreak that comes with the battle.  By the end, the audience is either cheering with tears of joy, or choking back sobs.  But a cancer comedy?  How can you balance that?  How do you make the jokes genuine without poking fun?  How do you make the story funny without holding back or being over the top?

The answer is simple: make it about the characters.

50/50 is based on the life of Will Reiser, a writer and producer on “Da Ali G Show”, and one of Seth Rogan’s best friends.  Reiser had a rare form of cancer, and wrote the script’s first draft in remission.  He said in interviews that while the film wasn’t autobiographical, Rogan and producer Evan Goldberg would grill him constantly while rewriting to make sure everything in the script was something he would actually do or he was actually thinking.  They wanted to make the film as realistically human as possible.  They did just that, crafting a movie not only heartfelt, but one that runs the gauntlet on emotions.

50/50 follows Adam, a young, healthy 27-year-old guy who plays by all the rules.  He avoids all drugs and alcohol, never learned to drive (too unsafe), and doesn’t even jay-walk on an empty street just in case a car appears out of nowhere.  He has a good life, but one hell of a nagging back pain.  Turns out the back pain is from a tumor on his spine.  Suddenly, Adam is battling cancer.  He doesn’t go on a huge BUCKET LIST style adventure or violently flip out on everyone, a la SAW.  He takes his medicine and goes to his therapy appointments and does exactly what he is supposed to do, because, frankly, that’s what he’s always done and he doesn’t know what else to do.  That is where the charm is: in the complete and utter confusion and uncertainty that lies within each of these characters.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, and does so beautifully.  After his diagnosis, Adam is, as they say in the five steps, numb.  He is carrying a metaphorical bag of bricks and can’t put them down until either a doctor tells him he can, or he very literally dies.  Gordon-Levitt brings that stoic tension in every frame, and in fact, leads this film.  His eyes show every ounce of frustration and fear building, all leading to a pivotal emotional scene where he is finally forced to deal with his impending fate.  Despite all the jokes Adam’s best friend makes and all the ‘therapy’ his therapist tries to give him, Adam is ultimately alone, and thanks to Gordon-Levitt, we are right there with him.  I honestly don’t know if a lesser actor could have handled such a role, but I’ve very happy I didn’t have to find out.

While Adam is the main focal point of 50/50, what also makes it work so well is the excellent supporting cast.  Seth Rogan plays Adam’s well-meaning yet stupid best friend, Kyle, who just keeps trying to make light of the diagnosis by using it to get laid.  While it’s basically Rogan in every film you’ve seen him in so far (including the fart and sex jokes), he plays the part simple and with major heart, a testament to the fact that it is his real life best friend whom the film is based on.  As for romance, Anna Kendrick plays Katherine, Adam’s young, doctorate-seeking therapist   With Adam only being her third patient ever, we see her struggle to try and follow the school rules, as well as her failing as she starts to really care about him.  Kendrick is absolutely adorable, and together, the two develop a sweetness that makes us beg for even just a kiss.  (On another note, I think I officially found what warm, home baked chocolate chip cookies are made of: the cuteness given off when they’re around each other.)

Rounding out the support are Anjelica Huston as Adam’s mother, Bryce Dallas Howard as his (ex) girlfriend, and Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer as his two fellow chemo patients.  Huston could have easily turned her role into a one-note cliché, but manages, within a mere two scenes, to turn all that around and let us know there is something a lot deeper that comes with a mother’s (and wife’s) love.  As for Howard, I don’t think there was one person who couldn’t tell what was going to happen with her, but she did what she had to do very nicely, and even had her own scene to give just a bit more depth than we were expecting.  And Hall and Frewer are just plain funny.  They may be sick, but let us know that even if you’re down, never take life too seriously.

If anyone ever asks you how to do a cancer comedy, point them in the direction of 50/50.  Director Jonathan Levine, writer Will Reiser and producers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan have created a film that just set the bar.  Heartfelt and most importantly real, 50/50 will have you laughing one moment, crying the next, and in the end, just plain thankful to be alive.  Let’s see what awards season brings…


Mike’s LIKES:

1) JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: I can’t rave about Joseph Gordon-Levitt enough.  While he is ‘calm’ on the outside, you could see the twisting and turning and battling of emotions on the inside.  He finally lets everything go in one climactic scene near the end, and it’s extraordinary.

2) CANCER SUPPORT GROUP: Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer have some of the best moments as Alan and Mitch, the two other chemo patients.  The Cheech and Chong or Waldorf and Statler of cancer are warm, comical, and somehow even made chemotherapy funny.

3) SUPPORTING CAST: Every supporting actor deserves a mention here.  Seth Rogan plays his usual idiot self, but does so with charm and care for his friend.  Anna Kendrick is absolutely adorable as the young therapist-in-training, and Anjelica Huston IS a mother in turmoil who would do anything for her son.

4) I NAILED YOU!: Great line by Rogan!  He said everything the audience was thinking, and I loved relishing in that moment!

5) MUSIC—“SOMETHING” AND “YELLOW LEDBETTER”: Listen closely to the score during any moments with Adam and Katie, and you’ll hear a faint resemblance to the Beatles’ “Something”.  Also, we have the best usage of “Yellow Ledbetter” I’ve heard in a long time…

6) BREAKDOWN: The scene referred to in like#1.  Wow…that is all…

7) TOUCH FOR COMFORT: The theme of touch for comfort is spread throughout the film, and when you see how such a small thing can impact a person’s life, you can’t help but get emotional.


1) NONE: Just an excellent, emotional roller coaster ride of a movie.


1) The film is based on Will Reiser, who developed cancer while working as an associate producer on “Da Ali G Show”.  Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, worked as writers on the show at the same time, and encouraged Reiser to write.

2) James McAvoy was originally cast as Adam, but had to drop out due to personal conflicts. Joseph Gordon-Levitt accepted the lead role just two days before shooting was about to start.


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