Review: 50/50

50/50 is an apt title; I liked about half of it. I might be willing to go as high as 60/40, but that’s it. It’s a film at odds with itself, working as a genial comedy about male friendship, but also sinking under the weight of its maudlin topic and Hollywood polish.

Written by Will Reiser, based on his own experiences with cancer, the film details the ordeal of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an unremarkable young man who learns he has a rare form of spinal cancer. He’s got a smothering mother (Anjelica Huston), and a brittle, artistic girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), who promises to take care of him, but we know she’s no good because she doesn’t like fellatio.

Gordon-Levitt goes through the rigors or chemotherapy, befriending two other men going through the process (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer), mostly through the shared use of medical marijuana. He shaves his head before the hair has a chance to fall out. But mostly he pals around with his old friend, Seth Rogen, a garrulous vulgarian who sticks by him, partially because it’s a good way to score with chicks.

Gordon-Levitt also undergoes therapy, and I guess by the luck of the draw gets a raw doctoral student, Anna Kendrick. She might as well be pictured by the word “pert” in the dictionary; she’s like a porcelain chipmunk. As the relationship with Howard goes sour (she’s played villains in two movies recently–she’s lucky if people don’t hiss at her on the street), the film explores the burgeoning attraction between therapist and patient. I’m guessing this part is fiction–not only is no guy lucky enough to get a cute, young therapist, but that she would fall for a guy with a sallow complexion and a shaved head seems stretching into the realm of fantasy.

What I liked about the film is the chemistry between Rogen and Gordon-Levitt. There’s many good lines of banter between them, especially cracks about Gordon-Levitt’s hairlessness (Michael Stipe and Voldemort are two figures he’s compared to). I find Gordon-Levitt to be a very appealing actor, and he’s fine here, despite his character’s lack of depth.

Which leads to what I didn’t like about this film: it’s lack of messiness. There’s too much patina, too many random details, too many fingerprints of the studio and design team. The film is set in Seattle, which seems random, and both fellows work at NPR, which also seems as if they pulled their professions out of a hat. NPR is going through tremendous budget cuts–no talk about that? Gordon-Levitt is editing a piece on a Hawaiian volcano (he seems to have months to complete it), but the topic lends no more significance than piece about anything plucked from a random Wikipedia search.

50/50 is occasionally moving, but I felt manipulated. Of course, all films manipulate to some degree or other, but I felt this. If this was Reiser’s story, it isn’t anymore, not after it’s been through the Hollywood mixer. It doesn’t really tell me anything new about the subject. I’m sure it’s horrible and transformative, but I didn’t get the full import of this from the film.

My grade for 50/50: C+


About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

3 responses »

  1. Agreed, and actually I liked it less than you. I thought it was completely tone-deaf, with so many discordant notes that I’m amazed it began as an autobiographical story.

    For example, there’s no way this was authored by someone with a parent who has Alzheimer’s, or that character wouldn’t have been treated like he’s in some blissful dreamland. Is Alzheimer’s a cruelly confusing and viciously degenerative disease? Nope, sometimes you get new coats! With silk-lined pockets!

    I hated the way the movie treated his doctor. I’m sure that somewhere in the world there’s a doctor so clueless that he breaks news of a potentially terminal condition to a patient via dictating to his tape recorder, but it came across as a stupid cheap shot to the medical profession.

    I hated the way that the movie treated the Bryce Dallas Howard character. Rogen’s character is a selfish asshole from start to finish, but he’s allowed his moment of redemption. Howard, on the other hand, is a shameful slut who deserves no mercy? To the point where the destruction of her painting is treated as a celebratory event? I’m sorry, but that’s just unbridled misogyny. She’s imperfect under stress, just like everyone else in the movie, but she’s the only one who isn’t allowed a moment of dignity. I expect the characters to hate her, but for the filmmakers to take part in that is disgusting.

    Kendrick’s character must have started out as a real therapist, before the studio notes insisted that they needed a new love interest. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why her character is such a mess. What the hell?

    There’s a million things like that. Almost everything in the movie felt wrong to me. It felt like it was made by someone who wanted to make an edgy movie about a cancer patient but couldn’t be bothered to think about how people would feel or act under the circumstances. It’s so damn insincere.

    And it’s a shame, because Gordon-Levitt is really good, and deserves a much better movie.

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