Review: 50/50 (2011)


This is how you watch a movie at the Rialto Cerrito theater.

I’ve been putting off watching the movie, 50/50 (2011), because of what I do for a living and how cancer has affected my people in my personal life.

Today – after stopping the film at least 5 times and having 3 glasses of bourbon – I forced myself to watch it.

As I knew it would be, 50/50 is a good movie. I wouldn’t say it was a great film, but it is very good. The reason it doesn’t get to be great is the subject matter. Cancer is so pervasive in our daily lives, it’s nearly impossible for a movie about someone battling the disease to strike gold.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is at the top of his game, though, and shines as the lead – a 27 year old obsessive-compulsive introvert diagnosed with a rare cancer of the spine. Bryce Dallas Howard is lovely as his girlfriend, though a reminder that beauty needs to be more than just on the surface. And there are a host of other great supporting cast, most notable is Seth Rogan as the best friend and Angelica Huston as his mother who is already battling with a husband losing his mind to an unnamed dementia.

A set up for a fantastic drama with amazing actors all beautifully filmed and with some well-chosen songs at key times which will be ultimately forgettable.

But what I found truly great about this movie, though, is that it reminded me of what the patients I work with are going through.  No, the story in the film is not the story of Joe Every-Patient. Instead, it’s an individual story about a specific man. That’s what makes it real.

I will say, that, as stories like this go, there are really only two places to find any ending – he lives or he dies. Because of that, despite the film’s attempts to build suspense as to what will happen, there is no feeling of surprise simply because I’d already mentally prepared myself for either ending.

It also falls into trappings of the romantic comedy genre, as if that was added more to lighten the mood of the film than to actually add to the drama. It’s not unwanted and it is needed to balance the weight of another relationship issue faced by the main character.

There are also the trappings of things which seem stereotyped for movies and shows where cancer place a role – almost as a character itself – the major one being the set of friends who also have cancer. There is the lovable quiet one and the loud, borderline obnoxious but tell-it-like-it-is friend and there is no question at all that at least one of them will not win the battle.

So, with all of that, 50/50 seems to not quite follow a formula but it definitely a collection of items – like modules linked together or building with Lego blocks.

Despite that, though, 50/50 is still a fun to watch, full of enough drama countered with comedy to not ruin the evening, and did leave me with the reminder that every person I work with has his or her individual story too. Each story will likely contain certain modules from the stereotypes, but each journey – wherever it leads – is still personal and magical.

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