MOVIE RATING: 4.5 stars (A-)
On the surface, a movie about a late-twenty-something guy being diagnosed with and treated for a rare malignant tumor on his spinal cord is not the makings of a great comedy. Yet, 50/50 (2011) completely surprised me, much like The Kids Are All Right (2010) did, and had me laughing throughout its 100-minute length. I’ve watched 50/50 three full times, once in the theater and twice on blu-ray, and I can honestly say that I just flat out love this movie. Each and every time, I laugh, I cry, and I have an outstanding time. As good or better than the last time. And I think that’s mainly due to the very rich characters written by Will Reiser and brought to life by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde, Matt Frewer, and Philip Baker Hall. That’s a hell of a deep cast! But they all bring such interesting and great nuances to each of their characters in this story, regardless of their amount of screen time.
50/50 is a simply story, following Adam (played by Gordon-Levitt) as he is diagnosed and treated for cancer over the course of 6-12 months. Along the way, he goes through psycho therapy and multiple roller coaster relationship rides with his friends and family. Riding shotgun is Adam’s best friend Kyle, played by Seth Rogen in a surprisingly good turn. Young director Jonathan Levine really put together a fantastic cast & crew to bring this relatively low-budget ($8 Million) flick to the masses in a way that harkens back to the incredible work done on the TV show M*A*S*H (1972-1983). What I’ve always loved about M*A*S*H, even still to this day in reruns, is how it could warp between laugh-out loud comedy and dry-your-eyes-out drama. All in a brisk 25 minutes. And 50/50 has that same kind of classic great writing and acting that makes a story eminently re-watchable over and over, without growing tiresome. I just know that I’ll be laughing and crying at 50/50 when I’m watching it 30 years from now, just like with M*A*S*H. I’ve probably literally seen every single episode of M*A*S*H a dozen times, and yet I enjoy them again and again. So it’s with high praise that I put 50/50 in that same company.
All the filmmaking pieces came together extremely well for 50/50. The cinematography by Director of Photography Terry Stacey and his camera team perfectly captures the Seattle vibe and the up-and-down emotions of Adam going through the diagnosis and treatment of his cancer in and out of the hospital. Stacey’s use of lighting at each location and in each set is masterful, usually in subtle but beautiful ways. On the surface, 50/50 looks and feels like a reality TV documentary almost at times with the “stark” natural lighting, but the cinematic artistry in the compositions and camera movements always reminds the viewer that this is a well choreographed movie.
The editing by Zene Baker keeps the movie flowing perfectly. It moves quickly when it needs to, but it isn’t afraid to linger when it needs to as well. It’s got a deft balance that I like in this kind of dramedy fare. The music is a great mix of original score by Michael Giacchino and popular music by Radiohead (“High and Dry”), Pearl Jam (“Yellow Ledbetter”), The Bee Gees and Roy Orbison. It all comes together and brings a powerful emotional depth to 50/50.
Once again, Joseph Gordon-Levitt showed his incredible talent in a movie with the numbers 5 and 0 in the title. 50/50 was one of the best movies last year, easily making it into my Top 10 Movies of 2011. It’s the kind of film that improves with each viewing as the characters comfortably become like members of your own family and friends. I feel like 50/50 brought together the perfect balance of comedy and drama, laughter and tears, and gave us all a story about cancer that hits home in all the right ways. I bet your odds of liking 50/50 are much higher than 50/50.
Check out details on this film and its excellent Blu-ray presentation at Blu-ray.com.