50/50: This Film Is The Best Medicine

Attempting to make a movie that is both raucously funny and emotionally devastating is like trying to hit a target with an arrow from a mile away. You can either be so irreverent that the drama feels forced, or the drama can be so effective that it bums the audience out too much for them to laugh. So many movies have tried to walk this tightrope before, and very few have succeeded the way Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 succeeds. This film had me laughing until my sides hurt and actually had me, a jaded film critic, wiping away tears near the end. 50/50 is nearly 100% satisfying.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young man working for NPR. He is interested in creating perfect radio stories and trying to keep things interesting with his longterm girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), while his co-worker and best friend (Seth Rogen) seems to be more interested in getting laid. Suddenly, when Adam goes into the doctor about some back pain he’d been having, he finds out he has a very serious type of cancer, and he needs to start chemotherapy immediately. This sends him into a state of shock, and he tells his friend, girlfriend, and mom (Anjelica Huston) not to panic. Adam goes through a series of changes as he sees a young therapist (Anna Kendrick) and befriends two older gentlemen at the chemo sessions (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer). All the while, the reality continues to set in: his odds of dying young are very strong.

Words can’t describe how perfectly writer Will Reiser, director Jonathan Levine, and the actors nail the tone here. I was admittedly very skeptical on how this would work, especially so shortly after Funny People, a film with similar subject matter and Seth Rogen as the co-star, fumbled when it came to the emotional side of illness. Turns out this film, which deals more with the process of being sick than discovering how to live again after being sick, is nothing like Funny People at all. It can go straight from hilarious scene to affecting scene to a scene that somehow manages both. There are plenty of one-liners, yet there’s also plenty of truth. It’s enormously difficult to jerk the audience from one mode to another like this, but the feeling achieved when it’s done well is pretty damn close to bliss.

There is one subplot that keeps this film from being perfect: Bryce Dallas Howard’s girlfriend character, since it is far more one-note than a film like this deserves. She’s established as being a “bitch” by the best friend because she hasn’t slept with Adam in a long time, and from there forward, we know that Adam’s relationship with her won’t last because he can do better. In particular, the circumstances surrounding her inevitable departure takes the film into a scene or two of woman-bashing that made me slightly uncomfortable. The script of this film has so much heart and humor and complexity that it’s a shame that such a key character acts like a one-note “bitch.”

Yet everything else about the film is executed wonderfully. The scenes with the mother could have easily become interactions with a one-note shrill harpy like we see so often in these films, but Huston is fantastic and her scenes with Gordon-Levitt are quite affecting. Kendrick is an intelligent actress who handles awkwardness with an unforced grace, and your heart goes out to her the second she appears. Baker Hall and Frewer are hysterical, again taking what could have been a stereotype and delivering the depth necessary to make the roles memorable. Gordon-Levitt is great at these sort of hip-young-man roles, because his physicality and squinty eyes hold worlds of life within them.

The real glue of the film is Seth Rogen, who it seems has played this role a million times yet here feels fresh. In movies like Funny People and Knocked Up, he plays selfish immature young men who try to find a heart, but here, his selfish immature young man has evident heart all along. It turns out this story is autobiographical for the screenwriter, whose best friend at the time was in fact Seth Rogen, so it’s no wonder the character is perfectly sculpted to fit his personality. The friendship between Gordon-Levitt and Rogen makes up the majority of the film’s laughs and most poignant moments– a buddy cancer movie. The rapport between everyone in the cast is excellent, the laughs are plentiful, and the tears are cathartic. Pretty odd that a film about a deadly disease can make you feel so good.

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~ by russellhainline on September 30, 2011.

123 Responses to “50/50: This Film Is The Best Medicine”

  1. I really look forward to seeing this. I’ve always enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt movies, and remember watching 10 Things I Hate About You rouglhy 100 times in high school. Thanks for the review!

    • Agreed – I have really been looking forward to watching this film and am so glad to hear it’s as good as I hoped it would be.

  2. You actually made me want to see this movie – thanks for the review and congrats on making f.p. :)

  3. I’m looking forward to seeing this — especially now!

    Disappointing, though, to read about Bryce Dallas Howard’s role. She’s such a gifted actress.

  4. Great review. I wasn’t too interested in seeing this until I learned the guy who wrote this had been through this. Seems like less of a stretch…

  5. Really liked your review! I’ll have to check this movie out!

  6. Oh wow…now I can’t wait to see this film!

  7. Thanks for the review; haven’t seen the movie yet, but definitely looking forward to it. Congrats on freshly pressed!

  8. Cool! I was really worried about this because of the subject matter, but this review might have tipped me to going to see it. Nice work!

    http://thenickelscreen.com

  9. This is a movie that I have been looking forward to seeing thanks for reviewing it.

  10. Good job!

  11. Great review! I feel compelled to watch this now. Thanks! :)

  12. It looks great. I listed to the interview with Seth Rogan on Howard Stern the other day…it’s always fascinating to listen to his stories about how he and his writing buddies come up with their movies…looking forward to it.

  13. Thanks so much for pointing out this film to me! I hadn’t even heard of it prior to now, but I’ll definitely check it out.

    Thanks for that!

    http://ukate.wordpress.com/

  14. Brilliant post. I’ve been so excited for this films release. I think both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan are amazing actors. They really have something special that I know they’ll bring to this film.

    Hannah-Mae

    http://paintitlace.wordpress.com/

  15. Thanks for the review, I was thinking about seeing this movie this weekend. Seth Rogan was pretty funny on Conan the other night when he was talking about this film.

  16. Really good article!! We have had many movies which are really inspiring and emotionally destroying. They just tell you the importance of life and inevitable Death.

    We had many movies on these story lines such as The Bucket list, Dasvidaniya (Hindi), etc

    Would watch this movie :)

  17. That´s so unfair, now I really wanna watch this movie, but it´ll probably take a litte longer to get here in Brazil. I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He´s great.
    Thanks for your post! :)

  18. I was on the fence about this movie because I thought it would be just too depressing. You may have just changed my mind. Thanks

  19. No offense, but I only read half your review. It was so good and so well written that I want to see the movie now, and I didn’t want your review to spoil anything! If that’s not a horribly constructed compliment, I don’t know what is.

  20. Really looking forward to seeing this movie! Great review.

  21. I was going to see the movie today but it’s been a rough day and I think the possibility exists that I may end up bawling my eyes out in the cinema. So I think I am going to go see it tomorrow.

  22. Unless you go through cancer yourself, you will never understand what cancer is like. No movie could ever capture that.

  23. While maybe it doesn’t help tell you what it’s like to have cancer, I thought it was still a very poignant film. And I have cancer. My review of 50/50 is on my blog:

    http://iamaliver.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/5050/

  24. Really great review!! I wanted to see this movie, but I’m worried it will be too raunchy and crude because its rated R and has Seth Rogen in it. I do love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. <3 Can't wait to see how it turns out!! :)

  25. I just saw it today, and let me say, your review was spot on. The only “Rated-R” part that I thought was unnecessary was the small bedroom sex scene between Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character and some random chick. Otherwise, the entire movie was just great

  26. [...] If you liked this site remember to add to your favourite! Read All [...]

  27. I was on the fence about seeing this movie, but your review helped me make my decision. Great insights.

  28. I really want to see this one!

  29. Excellent review. The film company should have paid you to write this; it makes me want to go see the movie, despite the fact that I tend to avoid tear-jerkers like the plague. I’ll be checking out your other posts. :)

  30. this movie is realy good… i like it..

  31. :)nice

  32. Amazing review! I’ll see it!

  33. This one has been on my to see list since I heard about it. Good to know it turned out.

  34. I was really upset that the theater I work at didn’t get this movie, I was looking forward to it and after this blog, I am really interested in seeing it.

  35. I think I am going to watch this movie… thank for the input… :)

  36. me gusta esta tematica es muy interesante

  37. yes i am definitely going to watch gordons movie.500 days of summer,the lookout,inception,he is already a great one .,)

  38. Maybe i will watch this film soon.. :)

  39. Just heard about this movie now, and from your writing, it seems like a terrific movie. I love how I don’t feel like I need to watch the trailer for this because your review gives me the very essence of what I need to know about this film. Good job!

  40. can’t wait to see it

  41. i’m definately watching this! Great review!

  42. Hey it looks me pretty nice movie will definitely see this one thanks for sharing.

  43. Wow, awesome post :)

  44. Whats up with all the popcorn btw? :D

  45. [...] 50/50 Movie Posted on October 1, 2011 by senuff http://thepasswordisswordfish.com/2011/09/30/5050-this-film-is&#8230; [...]

  46. I saw it last night, and it was a perfect movie. And you did a great review too!

  47. I’ll add it to my list of things to check out. Thanks!

  48. i like to read this post

  49. great review! i was so looking forward to seeing this movie, and now the anticipation has grown! thanks for sharing, and i look forward to watching myself.
    http://www.icouldntmakethisshitup.wordpress.com

  50. It looks great.

  51. Thank you for the review. Really looking forward to this, I personally like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, it will be nice to see them in a movie together.

  52. I hadn’t heard of this movie until I saw Dr. Christiane Northrup endorsing it on my Facebook page (I think that woman is a genius, if you haven’t checked her out, you should). After reading THIS review though, I know I have to see this film. Anyone who refers to themselves as a “jaded film critic” and then proceeds to highly recommend a film is definitely someone worth listening to!

    - Cynthia

  53. I was less impressed by this flick. Not very deep, nor very funny. For my full review go to http://pablochiste.com/2011/09/29/as-funny-as-cancer-5050/

  54. Great review, I can’t wait to see this film. I like the actors and I’ve had cancer so this movie has quiet a personal message for people like me!

  55. I already see this movie in 3 times. really awesome movie.

  56. HAI DUDES I M AYRAS NEW TO WORDPRESS PLZ CHECK MY BLOG & ENCOURAGE ME
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  57. Thanks for the review – it looks great. I realistic look at a devastating disease through the eyes of laughter. Can’t wait

  58. Yeah!

  59. It’s wonderful to see Gordon-Levitt in a film where his talent can be used properly after the horror that was Inception (I want my two hours back, please) where half of his screen time was his hair moving as the van careens down. What a lovely description of this film and a good handling of the various elements of the cancer experience.

  60. I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Wasn’t sure at first, though, if I wanted to see this film. But now, thanks to you, I believe I do. Congrats on being Pressed!

  61. i need my medicine!!i haven’t had it for like Months!!

  62. i’m definitely going to watch this movie :)

  63. I saw this movie tonight with my fiancee and in-laws and was very impressed. The writing was great, acting fantastic and definitely put us on an emotional roller coaster. Plus, who doesn’t love Seth Rogan?

  64. Wow, this film is definitely on my to-watch-list now. I like both Gordon-Levitt and Rogen – for different genres, so it will be very interesting to see how the two combine. Thanks for your wellwritten review!

  65. see my blog here kfchazim.blogspot.com

  66. thanks for the review. will definitely watch this one. plus i love JGL!

  67. i m surely going to watch this movie

  68. You know, I was originally doubting whether I really wanted to see this movie, because as you said, far too many movies flub in having a story that has the perfect blend of comedy and tragedy.

    Yet your review was so thorough and informative that I am completely convinced that I must now see it in theaters. Excellent job my friend, you write such exquisite prose that was a joy to experience. This blog entry definately deserved to be featured in “Freshy Pressed”.

  69. I enjoyed this. I like your straightforward prose and the obvious respect you have for your readership.

    I too have written movie reviews – The Help and Contagion although I am fairly new at this Freshly Pressed thing.

  70. I really look forward to seeing this.
    Great job :D !

  71. Sounds like a must see to me! Thanks.

  72. hmm, seems like i have to check this out! :)

  73. Thank you for giving me the knowledge of such a wonderful movie! Will surely watch it! :)

    And by the way, though my blog is nothing infront of yours but still, it is:

    http://akriti91.wordpress.com/

  74. I caught an advanced screening of this on campus here at the University of Texas and I absolutely agree. It was hilarious and devastating and it totally caught me by surprise. I would highly recommend it.

  75. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this movie since I was it in previews, but didn’t know if they’d pull it off with it being a comedy and about cancer. So far all I’ve heard is really good things from reviews, so I’ll have to check it out! I also didn’t know it was autobiographical for the screenwriter, that’s very interesting and maybe helped it work even more.

  76. Thank you, dear author, for a wonderful review. I’d like to share a grammatical note if I may? The penultimate sentence of your review would correctly read “The rapport among everyone in the cast is excellent…” Rapport is a word of French derivation, and “among” is the inclusive word of choice when speaking of 3 or more individuals.

    Having read your review, I am now very much looking forward to seeing this movie. Thank you!

  77. Luke Cutts reblogged this on lukecutts.

  78. Great review. Only one thing – On the second to last line, “repor” is actually spelled “rapport.”

  79. I’ve been looking for a good movie to see, and now I guess I’ve found it. I really like Seth Rogen and I think he has more potential than has been put to use in his recent films. :)

  80. This movie makes me remember a movie named Anand, released in 70s directed by India’s one of the most talented directors Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Anand remains one of the best movies in world of movies. The striking similarity is that it too deals with cancer patient but the movie never gets serious at all. In fact, the theme of the movie is that enjoy life as the world is transitory in nature.

    More about Hrishikesh Mukherjee :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hrishikesh_Mukherjee

    ******************

    More about movie Anand : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anand_(1971_film)

    ********************

    -Arvind K. Pandey

    http://indowaves.wordpress.com/

  81. cant wait to watch this

  82. I like this movie ! two tumbs up

  83. You’re right, I saw the movie and it was great! It will make you laugh and cry!

  84. Glad to hear you found this film worth watching as well! Some of our editors on our publication went out to review this film and found it touching with the right amount of laughs.

  85. I was on the fence about this film, because I was worried it would be too depressing. Thanks for your review! I am glad to read that it is worth seeing and that it is uplifting!

  86. I am a long time fan of Angelica Houston and JGL. Cannot wait to see this film.

    chelstine.wordpress.com

  87. I loved this movie! I completely agree with your review.

  88. I was totally skeptical of the movie because of Funny People actually. This has definitely given me a reason to watch it!

  89. I’ll definitely see this film, after reading your review. Thanks!

  90. I saw the trailer for this a while and have been looking forward to it since.

  91. Awesome Post

  92. I’m so excited to see this, I hope I’m not waiting too long for it to come out here in Ireland. I saw the trailer about 3 months ago and have been waiting for it since. Really doesn’t help my crush on JGL.

  93. I am excited to see this movie! I keep watching re-runs of 3rd Rock from the Sun and seeing Gordon-Levitt in the show keeps reminding me about this film! Great Review!

  94. I just saw it this weekend and loved it. I was worried it would be typical Rogen but it wasn’t. Good film.

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  97. Great review. With many like this the film may hang in there at the box office.

  98. This is a very well written review. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I saw the trailer and nearly DIED laughing. “This is a great song.” “Yeah, I know.” “I have cancer.” “NO NO! It was awkward!!!” hahaha. Genius. Congrats on FP : )

  99. I was able to see this movie early thanks to a screening and loved it! The cast was great, the story was well balanced with humor and the seriousness at hand. I hope to see the box office numbers improve!

  100. Great Reviews……..

  101. Shoot, I hadn’t even heard of this movie. I guess I have to go see it now–thanks for the heads up!

  102. I have heard good things about this movie, it is top of my list to watch, thank you for the post!

  103. Sounds like a must see! I have been wanting to watch it. Thanks for the review!

  104. Awesome review.

  105. You really hit the nail on the head with this review. This is precisely how I felt about this movie, and I pretty much bawled my eyes out as well. Thanks for the review! I concur, this is a must-see film.

  106. Great review of the film, I really enjoyed watching it for myself. This is a must see!

  107. I loved this movie. It was so sweet. My friends and I were all doing the ugly cry by the end.

  108. I was unsure about seeing this, but now I want to. I like both these actors, especially Seth, I loved him in Zach and Miri :)

  109. Great review!

  110. Can’t wait to see it!

  111. An excellent, well-written review. I like your arrow analogy, and I’m glad to hear the film hit the target.

  112. Funny People was a weary movie. I actually watched that 2 hour film hoping that something in the end is worth my time and nothing happens. <_<

    Hope this one is different. I like Levitt from the "500 Days of Summer".

  113. I really loved this movie too! :) Perfect blend of serious & humor

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