So you can see that going to 50/50 things were not looking good for the film and I was most definitely not on its side. However something surprised me, the film managed to change my mind and to a fair degree win me over. Sure there are problems with the film, but it turns out that 50/50 lived up to its name as far as my like/dislike of the film went, and it actually pushed me further towards the like.
The film opened badly for me, with a string of the usual American comedy jokes from Seth Rogen's character that was just screaming everything I don't like about low intelligence comedies. It had my shackles up immediately and I was thinking we were in for a terrible film, however the scene was over quickly enough and the story begins to out with the comedy level rising from that point on.
The main plot thread of the cancer was light through the first two acts of the film, and this really did surprise me. The moment the main character learns that he has cancer is pretty off hand and I never felt the weight of the moment, perhaps because the main character doesn't get a chance to either, but that weight never really arrived for me for some time. The scenes where the film does address the issue of cancer are lightly glossed over and the comedy drives the film forward.
Looking back on these stages of the film it seems to race through this main thread, lighting on the main points and ticking the boxes that would define the experience of discovering you had cancer, accepting it, and fighting it. The perfect example of this is how we meet and get to know Adam's new friends from chemotherapy. There's next to no development of them and we don't have much screen time until we find out that one has died, and we're treated to mere seconds of the moment and the funeral before moving on, and yet this should be a huge series of scenes with a much heavier affect on the audience. Considering the character is in the process of his first round of treatment and sees a fellow sufferer dying, you would think it would have more impact on him, the film and on us, and yet it doesn't.
I felt little character development for a lot of this early part of the film and it was feeling like any other buddy relationship comedy for the most part, albeit one that had a more serious thread that was never really explored just touched on again and again.
There were some interesting threads that were brought up but again they were never really explored. The therapist story line brought out some interesting aspects to the process of dealing with the illness and the treatment, and the relationship between Adam, Kyle and the girlfriend provided for a fair degree of fun, but the thread with the strongest potential is the relationship with the mother.
Although the therapist sessions are interesting and provide for some humour as well as some insight, it is rather twee that the romantic thread develops continues on the way it does. The last time we see this thread felt one scene too much for me, I perhaps didn't mind so much that they did connect in this way, but I just felt they could have left more to us to imagine rather than take it in the expected direction. It changes the feel of the film for me, as does the whole ending which I wish had stopped with the waiting room and the surgeon. You'll know what I mean when you see it, there's a fantastic pause moment that feels right.
I wasn't touched with the emotion of the film until the hospital scenes in the final act, and to be honest this was more because it connected with the still tender memories of my mother and her last days in hospital. So while it did move me, I didn't feel that it was down to the characters and their situations so much as reminding me of my mother's illness.
Again it shows the lack of weight in the characters and the main plot line. It's been said to me though that the film wouldn't have worked if it had been more serious throughout, but I disagree and if you watch the last act there's a perfect indication of how it would. During one of the heaviest scenes in the entire film the tension is broken with the urinating joke - yes it's one of those bodily function jokes that actually is well placed and works - and this shows just how well the weight of the story could work well with the comedy.
I really enjoyed the final act because it was brave enough to meet the story head on and it does suddenly become much more grown up. The sequences with Adam driving for the first time are very insightful and touching, and the way he gains understanding of what his friend and his mother have been going through and trying to do for him is well written and delivered. I liked these aspects of the story, and to be fair the earlier story of the girlfriend is also delivered well and provides for some real life recognition and connection for the audience, helping place you in the mindset of the main character.
There are moments through the film that feel like this, cleverly thought through, scripted and delivered, and the cast perform them well. Although I have mentioned a few times about the weight of the film being much lighter, it doesn't mean that there aren't moments in the film that do shine, and that there isn't enjoyment to be had in the film.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is very good in the role as Adam and he's convincing in his range of anger, frustration and fear. Bryce Dallas Howard delivers an equally strong performance and I really enjoyed her character, especially in her interplay with Kyle, Seth Rogen, who I have to admit I did enjoy watching in this film, and that's a surprise for I so often don't. Anna Kendrick shows once again that she's got great comic timing and a nice subtle touch to her acting. However we just don't see enough of Anjelica Huston, Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall. Still, they do make up a good cast and they all perform well.
50/50 provided a good amount of laughs and not from the usual stock comedy moments either, however I just wish it had delivered more weight and the romantic story line hadn't been so prevalent and predictable as it took us away from the reality of the events. The film seems to skip too lightly over the cancer plot and still manages to find the buddy story in amongst all this seriousness.
Yet it didn't go too light and it never went all out towards stock Hollywood comedy. There is still plenty of comedy and thoughtfulness to be had from the early part of the film, and it delivers more about the denial and hope aspects of a serious illness. It has a strong script that is performed well by a strong cast, but it could have gone further.
Still, the bonus is that you won't be completed wiped out emotionally by the film, for if it did keep the weight throughout then we would all be emotional wrecks by the end. As it was there were a number of people in the audience with tears in their eyes, but no one was left howling, there was as much laughter as there were tears.