50/50 (US - BD RA)
Jonathan thinks there's more than a 50/50 chance you'll like this film...
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen team up to beat the odds. Diagnosed with spinal cancer, 27-year-old Adam (Gordon-Levitt) navigates the road to recovery with the sometimes overbearing support of his crude best friend (Rogen), his smothering mother (Angelica Huston) and an inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick). Inspired by a true story, 50/50 is an honest yet hysterically funny account of a young man's journey toward healing. (From the Summit synopsis)
In 2008 I saw The Wackness; a delightfully offbeat coming-of-age story from a young indie director named Jonathan Levine. It had its share of flaws, but one thing was certain. This filmmaker knew how to create characters that were easy to identify with and feel sympathy for. It's no surprise that Levine would want to tackle a project like 50/50. It's one of those movies that had to be a marketing nightmare. A comedy about a young man with cancer. The subject could easily delve into melodrama or cheap exploitation, but Levine, working from Will Reiser's heartfelt screenplay, works miracles with the material. Each time I see him in a film, I'm more convinced that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the best young actor working today. He's perfectly cast here as Adam, the leading man diagnosed with spinal cancer. There are moments where his performance gave me goosebumps. His best friend is played by Seth Rogen, who brings his usual brand of raunchy humour to the role but also brings a friendly warmth to his character that you don't typically see in his performances. This was a very personal project for him, as he was a close friend of screenwriter Will Reiser when he was going through this very ordeal.
Supporting performances from Anna Kendrick as Adam's young therapist, and Bryce Dallas Howard as his struggling girlfriend are also very strong. Kendrick is a joy to watch, and without giving too much away Howard does a great job of making me feel the way I should toward her character. What really makes 50/50 work is the small personal moments between friends. There is sadness and a bleak quality to be found, as one would expect in a movie about cancer, but the film focuses on the support of a confused girlfriend, an amateur therapist, an overbearing mother (the hilarious Anjelica Huston) and a friend that has no idea how to be supportive in Adam's time of need. It feels real, as I'm sure many people would struggle with how to be supportive. The screenplay consistently finds moments of brilliant humour hidden along the way, be it exploiting Adam's condition to pick up women, or the old potheads he befriends in chemotherapy (played by the always-wonderful Phillip Baker Hall and Max Headroom's Matt Frewer). Nothing ever feels too manipulative. It's sweet and good-natured despite the heavy subject matter, and the laughs work to endear you to the characters. I found it to be a very cathartic experience. Without saying exactly how it ends, I will say that I can't remember the last time I so genuinely cared about a character I saw in a movie.
This is a very attractive 1080p transfer from Summit Entertainment. It was shot on 35 mm film and this digital transfer faithfully holds up that filmic appearance with a consistent grain. Colours vary, with a lot of warmly lit interior scenes that paint skin tones orange. Other scenes that take place outdoors or in a bright doctor's office feel a bit desaturated, with skin appearing to be very pale by comparison. The colouring never feels artificially boosted though. Reds and greens are especially vibrant, be it a floral spread in the background of a scene or red lipstick on Bryce Dallas Howard. Some of the dimly lit scenes look like they could have some crush with really deep, widespread blacks, but I remember thinking the same thing when watching a digital projection of the film at the theatre. Detail is very strong, looking as sharp as this printed film format is ever likely to look. Only the strictest vidoephiles will find anything to gripe about here.
50/50 is a low budget, character driven movie, and it arrives with an appropriately modest DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Music is a particular highlight, filling the in the side channels nicely. There's a good dynamic range and separation between the instruments that keeps it sounding rich and textured, be it the warm string instruments accompanied by piano or the weird therapeutic music that Adam must listen to during his appointments. Dialogue levels are spot on and never fight with the rest of the mix for clarity. Rear channels are used well to emote the busy sounds of the environment, be it the hustle and bustle of the radio station Adam works for or just traffic noises out by the streets. The effects are simple in nature, but I didn't expect them in such a low key film so they are a nice surprise. The LFE channel is hardly used outside some bass in the soundtrack and the background noise of a club scene, but those are really the only times it's necessary to call upon it. For it's ambitions, there isn't anything to complain about from this sound mix. It sounds much more crisp here than it did in my theatrical experience with the film.
Audio Commentary with Seth Rogen, Director Jonathan Levine, and Writer Will Reiser: The jokey nature of this commentary track is apparent right from the very start as they riff on the opening logos to the movie. They refer to Will Reiser as "Raisin" and poke a lot of fun at him during the commentary; asking him if he actually did a lot of things in the movie. Reiser seems like an incredibly friendly guy and how his actual experiences line up with the movie plot are both interesting and at time hilarious. There isn't a lot of insight into the making of the film or the technical aspects of it, but if you're a fan of Rogen and company there are some good laughs to be head.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 06:17): There are five total with optional director commentary if you'd like explanations for why they didn't make it into the film. There's an additional scene with Anjelica Huston complaining about doctors, a bit where Bryce Dallas Howard is helping him with his dieting, Adam returning to the radio station for work, an extra scene of Adam and Phillip Baker Hall's character in their last chemo session and then a brief scene where Adam collapses on the sidewalk.
The Story of '50/50' (HD, 07:54) is a short but sweet behind-the-scenes look at the film where Evan Goldberg, Will Reiser, and Seth Rogen talk briefly about when they learned Reiser had cancer. There is some footage from the set of other people working on the film talking about their personal experiences with cancer, and they also briefly touch on what it is like to work with each other.
Life Inspires Art (HD, 09:15) is a series of short segments from on set where Will Reiser, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen speak very candidly about Reiser's real life experience, with relevance to scenes from the movie. They are very open and honest about how they took advantage of his condition to meet women. They also talk about how they found humour and self-importance from having a friend with cancer. It's a little disturbing at first, but Reiser seems completely down to earth about it.
Seek and Destroy (HD, 02:21) is a brief but enjoyable look at the scene where Gordon-Levitt and Rogen destroy a painting in the backyard. It's just some on-set footage of them going at it. Simple but fun.
50/50 is a perfect balance of heartwarming character drama and raunchy humour, and I'm sad that it isn't getting any Oscar recognition. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives one of the finest performances of his career and Seth Rogen shows more range than I expected from him. Summit Entertainment has given the movie a terrific audio and video presentation on Blu-ray, and while the extra features are a bit thin, fans of Seth Rogen and screenwriter Will Reiser should find plenty to laugh at.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 24th January 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentary with Seth Rogen, Director Jonathan Levine, and Writer Will Reiser, Deleted Scenes, The Story of 50/50, Life Inspires Art, Seek and Destroy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Jospeh Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 100 minutes
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