Halfway through, Judge Patrick Naugle realized shaving his head wasn't the smartest idea.
From the guys who brought you Superbad…
There are few subjects universally unfunny as the "C" word. I can think of only a handful of topics you just don't joke about and cancer is one that just makes people uncomfortable. However, director Jonathan Levine has tackled the subject with wit, insight, and emotional resonance. 50/50 is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Summit Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) has a good life; he works at a local Seattle-based radio station, lives with an attractive girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help), and spends his free time with best friend Kyle (Seth Rogan, Knocked Up). Adam stays young and keeps himself in good shape, which is why it comes as such a shock to learn he's contracted a rare form of spinal cancer with only a 50/50 chance at recovery. Suddenly Adam's world is plummeted into despair, undergoing intense radiation treatments while dealing with an overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston, The Addams Family) and a fresh out of college therapist (Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air) who challenges his emotions. Adam's relationships with friends, family, and lovers are strained, as he quickly realizes who will stand by his side during the hardest fight of his life.
50/50 made me cry. There. I said it. The cynical, frumpy movie critic in me who thinks everything is just meh got all misty eyed at the end of what is essentially a funnier version of Brian's Song. This one snuck up on me while I was laughing and tugged at my heartstrings, like I was its own personal marionette. 50/50 is movie that tonally gets just about everything right, dealing with sickness and disease in a way that's accessible to everyone.
I'm lucky. I've never had to go through the cancer ordeal, nor had anyone close to me struggle with the disease. I had a grandfather who passed away from cancer eighteen years ago, but he was old enough to have lived a full life. While cancer at any age must be a terrifying and confusing experience, I can only image how much worse it is when it's discovered in your early 20s. How do you reconcile the fact that you may live long enough to only see a quarter of the life you were meant to live? How do you go on when you know there's a good chance you'll be left behind while everyone around you moves on? It must be one of the roughest journey's a person can take.
Newcomer Jonathan Levine's dramedy is some kind of miracle, not because it's wholly unique or original—the idea of focusing on illness is hardly groundbreaking—but because it does so with warmth, humor, and insight rarely seen in a movie of this ilk. Instead of slathering the proceedings with clichés, 50/50 tries to do something different within the confines of a specific genre. While the film does sometimes lapse into old tropes, there is a lot here we haven't seen in a cancer movie. The whole thing is peppered with pop culture references and asides to sex, video games, and Star Wars. Think of this as the raunchier version of Terms of Endearment; the saddest movie ever meant for fans of fart jokes and Comic-Cons.
The performances in 50/50 are all fantastic without flashy showmanship, save for Seth Rogan's usual one-liners and fratboy antics. Rogan attempts to inject some real pathos into his character, although it doesn't always work. Rogan is that rare breed of actor who never quite disappears into a character; I always the person even when he's pretending to be someone else. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is making smart career choices at every turn, displaying some heavily impressive acting chops with a really likeable onscreen presence. Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick's caring therapist plays well off of Gordon-Levitt while Bryce Dallas Howard starts off likable and slowly becomes a woman you want to see get her comeuppance. Even smaller roles, like Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia) and Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) as fellow cancer patients, shine brightly. Simply put, these are all actors in their prime, and it shows.
Then there's Anjelica Huston, an Oscar-winning actress who gives not only the best performance in the film but also the best supporting performance of the year. The role of Adam's smothering mother could have easily become a one-note character, tossed away and forgotten by the end credits. Huston takes the role—which isn't given even half as much screen time as the rest of the characters—and does something remarkable with it. It's a tricky balancing act—a woman with a sick husband and a sick son—one only achieved by a seasoned veteran like Huston. If she does not earn an Academy Award nomination, there truly is no justice in Hollywood.
50/50's only problem is a momentary slip into TV movie-of-the-week/sitcom confines (not surprising, since screenwriter Will Reiser previously worked in television). Part of me wants to blame the direction, but it may just come with the territory. I can't judge too harshly, since I don't know how to avoid those pitfalls. True, I knew the outcome before it arrived, but it didn't make the final 20 minutes and its five hankie climax any less powerful.
Presented in 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen, 50/50 (Blu-ray) offers a great looking transfer with little in the way of imperfections or defects. The colors and black levels are solid with a crystal clear clarity, proving you don't need to be something like Transformers to look great. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is also excellent, with a discrete sound mix that utilizes both front and rear speakers well, usually during the musical cues and interludes. Ambient noise is frequent and the dialogue, music, and effects are all clear as a bell. The package also includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in Spanish, as well as Spanish and English subtitles.
In terms of bonus features, we get a commentary track by actor Seth Rogan, producers Ben Karlin and Evan Goldberg, writer Will Reiser, and director Jonathan Levine riffing on the film's story, production and comedy; a handful of deleted scenes ("Mom Wants a Third Option," "Lentil Nut Loaf," "Adam Returns to SPR," "Alan Gives Adam His Tie," and "Adam Collapses on the Street") with optional commentary from Levine; a short EPK featurette titled "They Story of 50/50"; two shorter featurettes ("Seek & Destroy," "Life Imitates Art"); and some BD-Live content.
50/50 is one of the funniest movies you'll ever weep at. It could be the film resonated so much because I'm close in age to the main character, which means everything hits closer to home. I went a skeptic and came out a believer in taking something old and making it new again.
50/50 is 100% great filmmaking. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
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