By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
The incomparable George Carlin held that comedy can come from anything; there are no sacred cows. The key to humor is all in context, and in Jonathan Levine’s new film 50/50, the subject matter is one of the most difficult to talk about and deeply depressing of subjects; living with cancer. Joseph Gorden-Levitt plays Adam, a low-level editor for public radio, who has just been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of spinal cancer. The film follows as he goes through the motions of the chemotherapy process, and experiences the kind of physical and mental strains caused by such the diagnosis. Accompanying him for most of the way is his close friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), who wants only to see his friend get better.
50/50 may have dramatic moments, but it is far more of a human comedy. Yes, it is a terrible disease that causes pain and suffering to many people, but the process of living with it is a life change which is unlike anything else in the world. It doesn’t just change the life of the person diagnosed, it changes everyone around them. People act differently or don’t even know how to act, and empathy will suddenly appear from people who may never have given you a second thought. 50/50 makes the simple and elegant statement that Cancer is a very odd thing, and uses humor to back up the claim.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fascinating to watch as he takes on the role of observer to all things around him. For much of the film he carries a strange detachment to the process, which manifests itself in many emotions. The diagnosis is more than a shock to his system, it is as if he has woken up in the morning wearing a whole other body.
No… not at all like this…
You are the reason people hate America, Rob Schneider
The filmmaker seems to be using Adam’s condition to point out these quirks in society, and how it changes people. Adam is like an independent observer in a foreign country; culture shock makes for many of the film’s comedic set-pieces.
As with every Seth Rogen character, it is difficult to separate the man from the performance. However, for his part Seth delivers with the often hilarious antics that help to temper the dark nature of the film. Part of what makes this movie so effective is its use of comedy, even in dire situations. The jokes are not overly stylized or raunchy, they flow in a conversational sort of way. It feels natural, like two friends hanging out together, and later on like two friends trying to cheer each other up. Ultimately, the film’s humor ends up being a way to help the viewer reach catharsis, just as any good friend would.
Unrelated bunny will make it all better
Also significant in the film is the fantastic use of music, which pours onto the screen like rain. Filmmaker Jonathan Levine uses this, as well as creative camera blur effects, to showcase how Adam is feeling at any given moment. There are times when the medication he is taking makes him go into stages of euphoria, but the cinematography and music is used to comment upon these feelings, letting the viewer know that this is just his exterior, what feelings lie within are far from certain.
A fully satisfying comedy-drama, a celebration of the importance of living.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever you hear someone cry in the theater (Bonus points if it is your date)
Take a Drink: every time someone smokes weed
Take a Drink: for everything they got right in this movie that Judd Apatow got wrong in Funny People