Although certain subject matters should not be discussed in a joking manner, the comedy industry is sometimes given a pass when it comes to entertaining audiences. However, joking about things such as 9/11 or a tragic murder are instances that even the bravest comedians will not touch these days.
50/50 attempts to take a serious issue, that affects millions of people on a daily basis, and make it humorous. It’s quite the task as the 99 minute flick needs to juggle serious moments with audacious comedic writing. And eventually, the filmmakers find the correct balance.
When 27 year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) goes to find out why he’s having random back pains, a cyborg-like doctor (Andrew Airlie) alerts the nervous guy that he has a rare form of cancer. In a subtle state of shock, Adam alerts his live-in girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen) and his over-protective mother (Angelica Huston) about his aliment. Everyone pledges to help Adam, but none of them realize how much of a challenge the next few months will be. Plus, Adam is still unsure how to handle his predicament.
While spending days at chemotherapy, he yaps – and indulges in some medicinal marijuana – with fellow patients, Alan and Mitch (Philip Baker Hall & Matt Frewer); who bluntly joke with the young guy about their current status. Eventually, Kyle tries to lift Adam’s spirits as he convinces him to embrace his disease in the hopes of getting more action from the ladies. As in: sympathy sex. Though Adam is taken all of this in stride, his true demeanor is always revealed during his sessions with the surprisingly young hospital counselor, Katherine (Anna Kendrick).
Once the audience gets into this story, moments of “Should I be laughing at this?” may enter one’s mind. The marriage of borderline crude comedy and emotional segments takes awhile to run smoothly. Just over halfway through, things start to mesh as the rollercoaster ride of laughing – mainly due to the clever randomness & sarcasm of Seth Rogen’s R-rated one-liners and rants; to the painfully real instances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt giving a glimpse of what many go through with the disease, are engrossing to watch.
While the goal is to get the audience laughing – especially in the 2nd act – the seriousness of the situation is always chiming in. It’s never laid on too thick until the tearful climax (you’re not human if your eyes don’t well up), but the screenplay does just enough to reveal the challenges someone in this situation will go through on their own along with the people mentioned above. By far the best interactions from a dramatic standpoint are between the always on-screen Levitt and his excellent female supporting cast in Kendrick (near perfect in this role) and Howard.
Natural comparisons to Funny People (also featuring Seth Rogen in a similar role) will come up. 50/50 has more heart to it – and a better cast – but the tone of the screenplay is essentially the same. Basically, you’ll laugh (though some of Rogen’s material is forced) and cry.
Overall, 50/50 pulled it off in the end. It takes some time to work-in the challenging atmosphere of the subject matter as not everyone will dig this take on a serious condition. Yet everyone comes together and executes this modern comedic-drama (in that order) in the candid fashion it was going for.
RATING: 4 out of 5
(You can check out Ben’s review of 50/50 from earlier this month here)