Tuesday, October 4, 2011

50/50 (2011) – Review

Review: 50/50 is just what it sets out to be – a dramedy that is both very funny and dramatically impactful (with some tear-jerking scenes). Director Jonathan Levine does a great job focusing the attention completely on the characters, even the setting (Vancouver doubling for Seattle), plays into the characters. In doing this, he has set the audience up to be fully invested in them, especially Adam – who is played to be a very average guy, but it works quite well in this film because Adam is completely relatable to the whole audience (for the most part), which makes his journey all the more powerful and emotional. The film is actually surprisingly intense (in a ‘wow this is really sad’ sort of way), due in most part to the very good performances and the frank nature of Will Reiser’s writing. However, there is some fantastic comedy that lightens the film wonderfully, and changes the overall complexion of the film as a whole – this probably the hardest thing to get right – balancing the drama and comedy (especially the comedy). Creating tear-jerking scenes is one thing (Lifetime movies do a great job at it, but are any of them really that good?), but creating truly impactful dramatic scenes and scenes that are very funny (some being one in the same in 50/50) that flow together is very difficult, and Levine does it very well. This is the strongest aspect of the film. A small criticism that I have is that I wanted more scenes between Katherine and Adam (though, many directors believe it is good to leave your audience wanting more). Their relationship makes sense and works in the narrative, so that it not the issue; rather I just enjoyed their scenes and would have liked a few more, which also speaks to the lack of a fully satisfying ending. The ending works fine (as it plays a bit like The Graduate’s ambiguous ‘what now’, as many films have done since), but again I wanted more (a sense of closure for the characters’ relationships I guess, though the film does sort of have that, really I just want to see what happens next). However, this is really a minor issue. Overall, the narrative does work very well and Levine’s structure both plays off the drama and comedy while keeping the plot moving forward. 50/50 is both a very well played drama and a funny comedy. It is a film about relationships (with friends, parents and significant others) and how good relationships bring so much to our lives.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Jonathan Levine, now three features in, has shown himself to be one of the best young filmmakers working with 50/50. The best aspect of the film is the performances he garners from his actors, and the way he allows them to just play their scenes without big camera moves or tons of cuts. This is also due to the great work of cinematographer Terry Stacey, composer Michael Giacchino (whose scores usually stick out, but here he toned it down to match the mood of the film, I mean this is the composer who scored Lost, Up, Super 8 and Let Me In after all) and production designer Annie Spitz – all three of whom created visuals and music to perfectly fit the tone of the performances and play off and reinforce the characters, which is so important in character pieces such as 50/50. The performances overall were very good. Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer and Anjelica Huston provide great work in their small supporting roles. Bryce Dallas Howard is a lot of fun playing the girlfriend in a difficult position. Seth Rogen plays his typical pop-culture referencing comedy self, but in this film he works very well playing against the lead. Anna Kendrick is again fantastic (in really her second real dramatic performance). Joseph Gordon-Levitt is just right in his role as Adam – he plays the average guy very well, but also put enough anima into it that the audience not only connects but really feels for him.

Summary & score: 50/50 is much more than just an R-rated comedy or manipulative tear-jerking drama, it is a wonderful dramedy that will have you laughing and probably crying both through genuine emotion. 8/10

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