REVIEW: 50/50 (DVD)

The Director of The Wackness and All The Boys Love Mandy Lane showcases the work of new writer,Will Reiser, and kick-starts the “cancer-comedy” genre in the moving 50/50.

Twenty-seven year-old health freak Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works in radio and repeatedly complains of back ache. A routine visit to the doctor to establish the cause of his pain reveals he’s the victim of an incredibly rare gene mutation, resulting in spinal cancer with a 50% survival rate.

Already contending with his over-bearing mum (Angelica Huston), Alzheimer’s suffering father who no longer recognises him and insensitive artist girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), Adam attempts to put on a brave face, despite his insensitive doctor’s jargon-filled prognosis.

A characteristically loud-mouthed Seth Rogen plays his best friend and unlikely supporter, Kyle. While Rachael refuses to accompany Adam to hospital appointments, Kyle does his best to spur on his buddy, throwing an ill-considered office party. It’s through characters like Kyle that Reiser gently creates humour using the uncertainty of human reactions when faced with drama. Kyle is shown inappropriately discussing Rachel’s refusal to perform oral penetration on Adam in a cappuccino shop queue. “I’m going to throw up” is his initial reaction to Adam’s shocking news, followed by misinformed reassurances that Patrick Swayze managed to survive and “If you were a casino game, you’d have the best odds”. At the party Rogen throws to celebrate Adam’s life, his boss tells Adam: “I’m going to miss you so much”. Less sympathetically, Kyle uses Adam’s “type four back cancer” as a means of picking-up compassionate girls.

Other patients Adam meets are another source of light relief and also act as a means of illustrating the terrible unpredictability of mortality. Together they poke fun in trying to remember the long-named types of cancer, deciding “the more syllables, the worse it is”. Each patient is introduced by name and cancer type with two older patients acting as  mentors to offer Adam macaroons laced with marijuana. Their blunt honesty and appraisal of each condition makes it OK to talk about cancer: “Your hair falls out, your balls shrink and your dick becomes a constant source of disappointment…”

As Adam, Gordon-Levitt perfectly balances the calm numbness of discovery with the outright despair of loss and acceptance, culminating in a slightly unrealistic car scene. Adam’s attempt to keep his sense of humour is shown throughout as he makes amusingly unappreciated references to Doogie Howser and bonds with the young Dr Catherine McKay (Anna Kendrick).

Levine uses blurred footage to signify the near black-out the word “cancer” triggers in Adam. Metaphorical inside-looking-out window shots depict Adam’s state of mind while sombre music courtesy of Radiohead is used when Adam is “out of options”. The realism of 50/50 makes it less surprising the film is based on a true story. Whether cancer has touched viewers or not, Levine has made a heart-felt film and in the process created a new genre that emphasises how erratic the “Big C” is in claiming its victims.

Score: 4/5

Director: Jonathan Levine

Writer: Will Reiser

DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: March 26 2012

Review by: Leo Owen

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