Duke & The Movies

Film Criticism


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Written by: Sam Fragoso on September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011 | 14 comments | Featured, Old Format


He wakes up early. He walks down the stairs gingerly. He feeds his dog, perhaps for the last time. He gets dressed. He watches as his best friend pulls into the driveway. He gets in the car, no conversation to be had on the ride to the hospital.

This person is Adam. He’s recently been diagnosed with spinal cancer, which the doctors say has a fatality rate of 50 percent. The chance Jonathan Levine’s bittersweet dramatic comedy 50/50 is one of the best films of the year? 100 percent.

Everyone is aware of cancer. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t been affected by the disease. In 2001, my uncle died of cancer. My memories of the events are vague, except for my fathers’ reaction when he picked me up for the weekend. It was one of the few times I’ve seen him in cry. I responded with tears of my own.

In 50/50, though, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a writer for public radio in dreary Seattle, attempts to deal with cancer in another way: optimism. Shocked that he’s likely to die at the age of 27 (even though he doesn’t drink or smoke and recycles), he still tries to not let the disease bring him down in the possible final months of his life.

Thankfully, he’s not alone in his struggle. Kyle (Seth Rogen), his best friend, sticks by his side every step of the way. Then we have Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of director Ron Howard), who from the get go is wrong for Adam and is clearly disinterested in their middling relationship.

We get a great performance from Anna Kendrick (who’s best known for Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air) playing Adam’s psychiatrist. Katherine is new at her profession, but a bond between the two eventually develops. Finally, we have the overbearing, yet well-intentioned mother (Angelica Huston). She has a husband who can’t talk to her (he has Alzheimer’s) and a son who won’t. Her concern is understandable.

Anna Kendrick (left) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (right) star in the new fantastic little film, "50/50"

50/50 is full of crisp writing, a rarity in 21st Century cinema. Dramatic events ensue, but not without a fair share of equally witty and sadistic comedy. But above all the movie finds its strength in Gordon-Levitt’s compelling and moving performance as a young adult beginning to figure out the value of life.

Will Reiser’s script doesn’t come without flaws, though. The opening 30 minutes are remarkably unfocused and grating. All the characters, at least initially, feel forced and quite frankly not all that interesting. And the film contains too many musical montages, which feel tacked on for no reason.

But resembling life itself, 50/50 works through its shortcomings. After those first 30 minutes, I was in awe of how the script effortlessly flowed from the scatological to the heartbreaking. We come to care for Adam, his friends and his family. It’s a cruel experience that a person so young may have their life taken away so fast.

50/50 embarks on an emotional journey through family ties, cancer and moral complexities. It’s a roller coaster ride full of love, disappointment and compassion. Most of all, Levine’s honest portrait of man battling the specter of his own death is genuine, a quality often absent in cinema these days.

Rating: ★★★½


50/50 (2011)

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick

Director: Jonathan Levine

Writer: Will Reiser

Runtime: 99 minutes

Genre: drama, comedy

Trailer 50/50


There are 14 comments for this post.

  1. Dirtywithclass on September 29, 2011 11:25 am

    I’m seeing a lot of good reviews for this

  2. Duke on September 29, 2011 3:17 pm

    It’s all well deserved.

  3. Jan Meyers on September 29, 2011 8:17 pm

    Great review Sam. I will be seeing this one and let you know my take on it. It has been getting a lot of hype on TV.

  4. Duke on September 29, 2011 8:18 pm

    Looking forward to your take.

  5. Duke & The Movies :: featured :: September: For the Love of Movies on September 30, 2011 3:13 pm

    [...] 50/50 : Powerful drama, mixed with dark humor. [...]

  6. MrJeffery on October 1, 2011 5:27 am

    Nicely written review. I’m going to check this one out.

  7. Kid In The Front Row on October 1, 2011 12:07 pm

    Looking forward to finally watching this, nice write up!

  8. Duke on October 1, 2011 12:14 pm

    Thank you man. Nice to see you around the site.

    Love your work.

  9. Dan O. on October 3, 2011 4:04 am

    All of the reviews of this are so good and I’m glad because I loved it and can easily call it my favorite film of the year so far. Nice review Sam.

  10. 3guys1movie on October 4, 2011 2:48 pm

    Nice review. I hate myself for thinking I was going to hate this movie.

  11. NeverTooEarlyMP on October 10, 2011 9:54 pm

    Great review. I loved that the movie seemed believable, and that they didn’t really paint anyone as a bad guy. Even the ex-girlfriend seemed believable to me as someone trying to do the right thing in a bad situation.

  12. Duke on October 10, 2011 11:14 pm

    Definitely believable.

  13. Duke & The Movies :: The Year 2011 In Reviews on January 22, 2012 6:39 pm

    [...] Assassins 30 Minutes or Less 50/50 A Good Old Fashioned Orgy A Little Help A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas 3D The Adjustment [...]

  14. Duke & The Movies :: My Favorite Films of 2011 on January 27, 2012 6:02 am

    [...] 5.) 50/50 [...]

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