Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be another one of those struggling with cancer stories.
50/50 has only been in the cinema for a few weeks and by this weekend, it will likely be out of a lot of cinemas in Australia. It’s already been pulled from most screens in many areas, and when the new releases open it’ll be playing on even fewer of them. Theaters can’t run it because no one’s showing up to see it. Despite a solid marketing campaign and the star power of Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the truth is that almost no one is buying tickets. 50/50’s box office numbers have been a disaster.
Critics have lavished the film with acclaim and rated it one of the best movies of the year. Audiences seem similarly enamored. The few smart enough to buy a ticket invariably come back praising it. But mostly, no one seems to want to see it. You can’t blame them really. This is a cancer movie, and nobody wants to see another movie about cancer.
But this isn’t that movie.
Audiences are staying away from 50/50 because they don’t want to put up with another depressing tale about a guy getting sick and suffering. It’s been done and it’s never any fun. Except, 50/50 isn’t that movie. You walk away from a cancer movie angry at the disease, maybe motivated to donate to charity or participate in a walk-a-thon. You go home and hug your loved ones, thank god that they haven’t been struck down by it, and fear the day when the things you saw on screen might happen to you. That won’t happen with 50/50. Instead you’ll walk out of 50/50 feeling stronger.
50/50 is absolutely accurate in its depiction of a young man dealing with a devastating illness. It nails every detail, but it’s not about the details. It’s not about the suffering. It’s about someone dealing with that suffering, about someone living with it, taking it on, but dealing with it in a way that lets him continue to lead a life. Whether or not he’s supported by everyone around him, whether or not he’s getting any better, somehow Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character keeps getting stronger. And if you go on this journey, you’ll get stronger with him.
Unlike any other kind of cancer movie you’ve ever sat through, you’ll walk out of 50/50 less afraid of the disease than you were when you came in. Not because the film makes it seem any less horrible than it is, in fact I’d say it’s better at dealing with the realities of cancer than almost any other movie in recent memory, but because 50/50 makes it clear that no matter how bad the cancer is, you can be stronger. You can deal. It doesn’t matter if it wins, you’ll always be the victor. And if you see 50/50, after one-hundred minutes of humour and emotion and maybe even a few tears, you’ll walk out a stronger person than you were when you went in.
50/50’s chances of survival past this weekend are less than 50%.
Capone calls 50/50 the most emotionally satisfying film of the year so far!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
One of the oldest cliches in film criticism is the classic adage “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.” I’m pretty certain I’ve never used that expression in my career… until now, because there is truly no better way to describe the cancer comedy 50/50, based on small doses of the experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, a TV writer and producer who was diagnosed with cancer when he was still in his 20s, and also happened to be good friends with Seth Rogen, who co-stars in the film as the lead character’s best friend. What are the odds?
50/50’s main character is named Adam, and he is played by the can-do-no-wrong Joseph Gordon-Levitt, certainly one of the most likable and most capable actors of any age working today. Adam is living a good life as a segment producer for a local NPR station, with a beautiful artist girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his aforementioned buddy Kyle (Rogen). The diagnosis comes early in the film, and what we get is something you rarely see in disease-oriented films on the big screen—a young person with a chronic illness who goes through the traumatic experience of aggressive treatment. And it’s a comedy, which is a brave and necessary approach that draws us in and makes us not just like, but love, these characters.
While Rogen takes the lion’s share of the comedic relief, some of the best serious moments in 50/50 belong with Levitt meeting his rookie therapist Katie (Anna Kendrick, the Oscar-nominated actress from UP IN THE AIR). Adam hides behind humor and simply isn’t comfortable opening up to even his closest friends and family about the deeply rooted fear he’s feeling during this process. But when he’s with Katie, he opens up while clearly falling for her at the same time, a dangerous prospect but one we tend to support because we want something good to happen to this guy. And Kendrick’s insecurity about being able to handle patients that may die is palpable and honest.
Adam’s tribulations range from his girlfriend not being able to handle being with a sick guy to the devastating impact of chemotherapy to his overbearing mother (Anjelica Houston, seeming to step right out of a Wes Anderson film) wanting to move in to care for her son. As much as I love the relationship developing between Adam and Katie, the film’s heart—believe it or not—belongs to the men. The friendship between Adam and Kyle is so much fun to watch, and it changes and deepens as the film goes on. The many times I was tempted to cry the most involved what was going on between these two pals, and I think each audience member is going to respond to different scenes in different ways depending on their history with similar circumstances in their lives. The film doesn’t manipulate (much) or tell you when to feel something deeply; it happens organically and beautifully.
Director Jonathan Levine (ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, THE WACKNESS) has a perfect knack for refusing to leave a scene until we’ve learned something new about the characters in it. 50/50 doesn’t work unless the character development is deep and fluid. In a strange and fun way, we’re not sure that Adam is going to come out of this experience any more enriched as a human being; he seemed pretty great before cancer, so there’s no need for a transformation. But that doesn’t take away from any of the splendor of the movie, which feels authentic, heartfelt, and full of life. In the end, this is a story about friendship, and I consider 50/50 one of the most emotionally satisfying films of the year.
Feel free to RT the shit out of this…