Fallout Boy – “50/50” Review

Cancer is such a serious subject that creating a whole movie around the disease can be fraught with peril. Such an endeavor can easily succumb to cloying theatrics or high-minded nonsense or some other horrible cliché. So, it is with great joy that I tell you 50/50 avoids all that. Director Jonathan Levine has crafted a smart and funny film that walks a very precarious tightrope.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Adam. He’s 27 and just found out he has a very rare form of cancer. Seth Rogen plays Kyle, Adam’s best bud, but really he’s playing himself. Anjelica Huston is Adam’s smothering mother. Bryce Dallas Howard is the less than altruistic girlfriend. And Anna Kendrick is Katie, Adam’s therapist in training. Will Reiser (Rogen’s real-life friend) wrote the movie, based loosely on his own bout with cancer.

Rogen’s presence left me thinking about Judd Apatow and his repertoire of man-child characters. This isn’t an Apatow production; however, the man-child theme still applies, in a much more subtle and sophisticated fashion. Adam isn’t childish, he’s “just fine.” The film is about him coming to grips with this fact and adjusting his attitude, however slightly. Because the film avoids giant emotions, for the better, this is hard to explain. If I tell you he learns a lesson, which he sort of does, then I’m selling the film short. When I say he changes just a little, it sounds uneventful, which it’s not. The movie is rich and full of life, and you just have to trust me on this one.

By that same rationale, you might not notice it, but Gordon-Levitt is amazing in this movie. He brings a lot of heart and a lot of honesty to the role. He doesn’t make Adam some quirky indie-film guy, but he also doesn’t make Adam so plain as to render him dull. He finds a perfect balance, which is basically the movie in a nutshell. Rogen is funny as ever and really good too, even if he is just playing a version of himself. They use his humor just enough without making it feel forced. Huston and Howard have less screen time but make the most of it.

The movie has a very organic feel about it, like this is all some story your friend is telling you at a party. It’s natural but structured. How else to explain Adam and Katie’s relationship? The rhythm of their scenes is precise and restrained in the best possible way. Kendrick is ridiculously talented, so you might not realize how hard her role actually is. Just watch her face as she tries to answer Gordon-Levitt’s questions honestly but without saying exactly what she wants to. You watch and you be amazed!

The film’s relaxed quality allows the typically mawkish stuff to work without pissing you off. You can shoot a puppy and get a sad reaction out of someone, but it feels wrong. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like have my strings pulled (at least not so obviously). 50/50 has its cake and eats it too. It’s really funny and you will certainly need some tissue afterward. I was bawling… or at least what a black-hearted person would consider bawling. I thought my eyes were broken for a minute, it was so sustained.

I’m finding it difficult not to use clichés when talking about a cancer movie. Just know that the movie is better at avoiding them then I. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry… because of great acting and directing, not Lifetime histrionics.

Grade: A

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5 responses to “Fallout Boy – “50/50” Review

  1. Mixing humor and painful subject matter is, naturally, very difficult. The beauty of this movie is that it does so with ease, especially with such good actors in these roles as well. Good review.

  2. Yeah, it really does earn points of difficulty.

  3. HULK REALLY GLAD YOU CAME AWAY FROM FILM WITH SAME CONCLUSIONS OF THE TONE WORK. IT A REALLY NICE BALANCING ACT.

    IN TYPICAL HULK FASHION, HULK PICKING UP ON COUPLE OF THINGS HULK WANT TALK ABOUT. THE FIRST IS ABOUT THE NOTION OF THE “QUIRKY INDIE FILM GUY” BECAUSE IT SORT OF WHOLE OTHER BALL OF WAX THAT HULK WOULD HAVE TO WRITE WHOLE COLUMN ABOUT. BUT HULK NOT SURE THAT THE ARCHETYPE ACTUALLY EXISTS. HULK FEELS IT MORE OF A PROJECTION. AS SUCH, HULK SORT OF WORRY WHEN PEOPLE USE “INDIE” IN A BAD WAY BECAUSE THE WORD ITSELF DOESN’T ACTUALLY MEAN ANYTHING ITSELF. SO HOW CAN IT IMPLY SOMETHING BAD? THOUGH HULK KNOW WHAT YOU ACTUALLY MEAN BY THE COMMENT. USUALLY THE KINDS OF FILMS THAT SEEMINGLY EXHIBIT THAT ARCHETYPE ARE USUALLY MAWKISH, EMPTY, AND HOLLOW. BUT HULK JUST WANT TO POINT OUT THAT IT’S NOT THE “INDIE” PART THAT CREATES THAT. THAT MAKE SENSE? HULK JUST ALWAYS WORRY WHEN WE THROW THE WORD AROUND.

    THE SECOND IS THE TUGGING ON YOUR HEARTSTRINGS THING. AGAIN HULK WORRY ABOUT THE PHRASING, BECAUSE IT SHOULDN’T BE THE TUGGING THAT BOTHERS YOU (BECAUSE THAT IMPLIES A DEFENSIVE MECHANISM) BUT JUST AS YOU SAY THE OBVIOUSNESS PART IS THE REAL KEY. AGAIN, MINOR LANGUAGE QUIBBLE BUT HULK ALWAYS LIKE ENGAGING IN THESE SORTS OF THINGS. WHY? WELL HULK FEEL LIKE THERE SHOULD BE A GOOD WAY TO KILL A PUPPY THAT WOULD NOT RUB YOU THE WRONG WAY. MAKE SENSE?

    ANYWHO, GLAD YOU LIKED!
    -HULK

  4. About the use of “Indie”…You are right, I was using it as a kind of shorthand. You say you know what I mean, so I think my point was made, but I could of said something else like “His acting choices avoid stereotypes” or something instead. Unlike Hulk, I try to be a little more brief on this site (which is not a knock on Hulk, Hulk is doing something more in depth and that’s good), but I could have worded it better.

    As for the heartstrings…Well I guess I really needed to be more specific, cause I wasn’t thinking of heartstrings at all, but puppet strings. Like, I don’t like when a film is dictating exactly how I should feel about something as if there is only one proper response because they are controlling me like a puppet-master. Ironically, I prefer films that have a clear directorial signature i.e. Kubrick…always in control…but I do not like the emotional obviousness we are talking about and 50/50 avoids beautifully. Does that make sense?

    And yes, there is always a good way to kill a puppy.

  5. Pingback: Bryan’s Top Ten Movies of 2011 | Shooting the Script

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