How do you deal cinematically with cancer? That’s the question of Jonathan Levine’s 50/50, which was based on the experiences of its writer Will Reiser. It’s a tough subject matter because cancer touches so many lives and rarely offers happy endings. But 50/50 manages to be charming, and more about friendship and family in crisis than just pain. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars with Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anna Kendrick in this warm dramedy. Our review of 50/50 on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, who works for public radio and is in a serious relationship with artist Rachael (Howard) when he’s diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He’s told he’s got a 50% chance of survival, and it changes his entire life. Those around him – like his mother (Anjelica Huston) – freak out in the expected ways, while his girlfriend seems unable to get her head around it. His best friend Kyle (Rogen) seems airy and silly, but is mostly supportive. To deal with the trauma, Adam goes to see a shrink, and it’s Katherine (Kendrick), who has just graduated and hasn’t had much experience with real people yet.
As Chemo and treatments go on, Rachael pulls away completely and cheats on Adam, which frees him and Kyle to see if you can use cancer as a way to pick up girls. It turns out you can, and they both enjoy medicinal marijuana, but cancer claims the life of one of Adam’s chemo partners, and death seems very real – even though he’s got a growing attraction to his shrink.
Screenwriter Will Reiser was good friends with Rogen and Evan Goldberg, which may partly explain why this movie was made. It may also explain some of the film’s flaws – the film’s biggest drawback is that the character of Rachael is drawn cartoonishly. It’s hard to know if she’s directly modeled on one of Will’s ex-girlfriends, and it’s almost as if she was written out of spite. Howard does her best with the material, but – perhaps because of the structure of the film – you know she’s going to be bad news right away and there’s no place for the character to go. But Reiser also captures the impish spirit that comes with someone still not dead, and the scenes of Adam and Kyle trying to use his sickness as a way to pick up women is inspired.
Small flaws aside, 50/50 works because it’s fascinating to watch a young person come face to face with their own death, and the trauma that comes with not only having to deal with cancer, but trying to be a human being around your friends. Like many recent romantic comedies, the big love story is not between Adam and a woman, but the great friendship between his character and Rogen’s. The two obviously love each other in a non-sexual way, and Seth Rogen (likely playing a version of himself), is great in the movie. It may be his best on screen work – comedians often do well playing a version of themselves, and he has rarely been as sympathetic and commanding on screen. Perhaps it helps for him to be playing off someone as talented as Gordon-Levitt, who anchors the film.
It’s a small movie, with small goals, and a conclusion that’s no surprise, but it’s also nice to see a smart adult film about characters dealing with real things in a real way. It’s a winner.
Summit’s Blu-ray of 50/50 presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. The transfer is excellent – as to be expected. The film comes with an audio commentary by director Jonathan Levine, Will Reiser, Seth Rogen, and producers Evan Goldberg and Ben Carlin. There are also five deleted scenes (6 min.) with optional commentary from director Levine, with an alternate ending. They’re mostly trims, so nothing’s missing. “The Story of 50/50” (8 min.) is a making of that covers the regular bases, while “Life Inspires Art” (9 min.) walks through four scenes in the film that were inspired by real life. “Seek and Destroy” (2 min.) shows the boys destroying a painting – this must not have been inspired by real events, because it plays like a section of that special feature.