Review In A Nutshell:
I wasn't blown away with the first film that I have seen from director Jonathan Levine, Warm Bodies, as there were elements of it that showed high potential when read on paper but seeing his execution on screen felt underwhelming. Though even after that experience, I still had high hopes for 50/50, as its premise seemed to show an opportunity for drama and its poster and cast shows that it also could come off as funny. This film could have been the perfect drama-comedy but due to problems in balance prevent it from being so. Nevertheless, 50/50 still has its charms.
The film's plot of a young and healthy man, who suddenly received news of spinal cancer, was definitely an interesting one. I have seen many films that contain characters who suffer from the disease, but their role always seems to play as a hurdle for other characters to deal with. This time, we see a film that centralizes on the stages during this unfortunate event and ultimately leading to the final destination that determines his prognosis.
The story features interesting events that I felt was true to life. We get to watch the ranges of emotions that a person would go through when the chance of death is just around the corner. Stages of grief are clearly shown obviously here but the film prevents itself from being predictable in that sense, as though our protagonist does undergo those stages, it is written in such a way that felt personalized rather than an example from a psychological textbook.
Though I was impressed with the film's personal character driven narrative, I was even more impressed with the aspects slightly outside that, which are the relationships that the protagonist has. All figures of his life are given enough time for exploration, and each one could simply be a story on their own. I did have fun watching his relationship with his best friend as it handles the idea of friendship in such a natural way that one can't help but feel a little convinced that these are more than just fictional characters. The protagonist's relationship with his girlfriend and therapist, particularly the former, felt realistic and dealing with problems that one can also find in the people that walk around us; though I did have minor issues with his relationship with his therapist as its ending felt warm but ethically immoral even if he is not her patient anymore, I think my problem is that for a film that contains so many elements that feel organic, why hurt that with a false ending? Both of these relationships were entertaining to watch, none of them though was able to make me care as much as his relationship with his parents. Levine handles it with such tenderness that I was close to showing external sadness towards it. There was a scene near the end of the film, where the protagonist and his parents are at the pre-operation ward, waiting to be called into surgery; that moment resonated so much with me as I have had many opportunities to care for patients like him and I never really understood the feelings they go through as they always seem to project a persona in front of you telling that they are fine. Seeing him express his fear and anxiety made me recall back on my own experiences and the look his father gave to him after saying "I love you" was heartbreaking.
My core issue with this film is simply in Levine's handling of the film's tone. He clearly wants to blend the film with both a comedic and dramatic aspect but I felt he has not mixed efficiently enough that it felt like eating something with curds. The comedy in this film was certainly effective as I did find myself chuckling quite a few times but its first half reached to a point of over-saturation where it starts to hurt my overall experience, it could have been improved if Levine was able to buffer these moments with drama that echoes the effectiveness of its comedy. Also sentimentality is a tricky element, when it comes to judging how I feel about it in film, as it entirely depends on how the director executes it and the overall value of its purpose; 50/50 is definitely the type of film that I expected high sentimentality from but the film just couldn't deliver the goods. Its key moments did feel melancholy and sympathetic, but it didn't reach the heights that for example "Terms of Endearment" was able to achieve. I think Levine in this film was attempting to match the quality that Marc Webb was able to bring with "500 Days of Summer", but sadly missed the mark.
The performances from the cast in this film were great, though what they have delivered, aside from Rogen's, are far from their best. Joseph Gordon Levitt was able to handle the demands that Levine required from him, carrying heavily the dramatic aspect of the film while still possess a sense of humour. Watching him interact with both Rogen and Kendrick, and the differences that he brings to the character in each moment makes his character come to life, and avoiding coming off as one-note. Seth Rogen as I have said surprised me here, showing off a bit of emotion that I never thought the actor even had, and delivers it in such a way that was layered. This is now twice in a row that Anna Kendrick has impressed me, her performance in this film was fantastic, portraying as the love interest but does so in a way that avoids the overly-recycled and recognizable characteristics, at least that is how I felt. This is certainly far from her best role, as for now that merit goes to her role in Up in the Air.
I definitely expected more from 50/50, but overall it holds up and has determined itself to be worthy of at least positive praise. After seeing this, it does make me worry whether or not Levine is actually a worthy filmmaker to invest my time in as he doesn't seem to have a personal trademark that make himself distinctive from his rival competitors.