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50/50 - Review

50/50

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

GIVEN the sensitive nature of its themes, cancer comedy 50/50 is a brave piece of filmmaking from everyone concerned. It’s also a highly successful one that treats its subject matter with the right respect in spite of some ropey moments.

Inspired by writer Will Reiser’s own experiences of battling the disease, the film offers an original story of friendship, love and survival that feels all the more real for injecting humour into some unlikely places.

Indeed, where a lot of films based around a degenerative condition or potentially fatal disease often opt for schmaltz and over-playing the emotions, 50/50 opts for a combination of awkward and sometimes laugh-out-loud humour that makes its more heart-felt scenarios resonate far stronger.

The film follows the fortunes of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a play-it-safe kind of guy who suddenly finds himself diagnosed with cancer.

Struggling to cope with best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) in tow, Adam suddenly finds everything about his life thrown into question, especially since the girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) he thought he could rely on for support proves more self-centred than he thought, and his mum (Anjelica Huston) keeps harassing him to do what she can to help.

Indeed, the best support comes in the least likely of places, in the form of his well intentioned but inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick) and some of his fellow patients (most notably Philip Baker Hall’s grouchy veteran).

Directed by Jonathan Levine (of The Wackness fame), 50/50 certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste given its unconventional approach, but that doesn’t mean to say that it’s heart isn’t in the right place.

Indeed, it may be for this very reason that the film may be more relatable to some than the more conventionally sombre approach adopted by many films.

Admittedly, the first half an hour requires a little patience, emerging like the Knocked Up version of a cancer comedy by virtue of Rogen’s trademark stoner comedy routine.

But thereafter it strikes a much better balance between the comedy and the drama, often opting for subtle moments to define the true nature of the various relationships at play over any overly grand gestures.

As a result, the film also plays to the strengths of its talented cast, with Gordon-Levitt, in particular, rising to the demands of the role by displaying both a gutsy determination to tackle his condition head-on with the fears and anxieties that come with such a life-changing diagnosis.

Rogen, too, eventually wins you over as his loyalty and love for his best friend remain unwavering, while Huston is especially heartbreaking and all too real as Adam’s over-eager mother.

The slow-developing relationship between Adam and his therapist is also nicely played, even though the more cynical might argue that it conforms more to rom-com territory.

Overall, though, 50/50 is a deceptively smart film that confounds initial expectations to deliver a heartfelt, funny and genuinely moving take on the subject as well as a set of richly defined characters who live long in the memory.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 100mins
UK Release Date: November 25, 2011