50/50 Blu-ray Review: So Much More Than Just A "Cancer Comedy"

Jonathan Levine's comedy is an affecting, affectionate portrait of love, of loss and of the way relationships change under severe duress. And it's bloody great.



Most reviews of 50/50 will start with some sort of debate over the issue of presenting cancer, and the spectre of death in film, and specifically in a comedy film, with some suggesting that the finest examples transcend beyond their subject to make wider assertions about life and human spirit. But 50/50 is unavoidably, unapologetically about cancer, and it is from that difficult subject matter that it draws its greatest strength. The story, which follows Joesph Gordon-Levitt's Adam through his journey from diagnosis to treatment and beyond is based on the true life story of its writer, producer Will Reiser, whose excellent script is punctuated by brilliantly raw moments of emotion and human intrigue, and which for the first time offers a stark, unsugared portrait of cancer and its huge cost. Though the film is marketed as a comedy, its belly laughs are few and far between, and the best comic moments are based wholly in truth and in the awkward dynamic created between people who know and love one another when something so life-altering enters the fray. There are emotive peaks and troughs, particularly in the excellent way Gordon-Levitt paints his character's reactions to his illness, and as a result there are also some seriously affirming moments - but the great strength of the script, and the film's central performances is in the lack of empty sentiment. Instead of finding something false or forced in Adam's journey, Reiser has concentrated his story on the blossoming tides created by something as destructive as a potentially fatal illness. Each character reacts differently around Adam, responding as obviously to his diagnosis and his treatment as his own body, from the over-zealousness of his mother (the excellent Anjelica Huston), through his morally repugnant girlfriend (a rather cruelly shackled Bryce Dallas Howard) to his flippant but loving best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen).

It is through those relationships, and how they change that Adam begins to count the potential cost of his illness, and the characters are drawn and acted so well - particularly by Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Huston - that they, and their relationships are utterly believable, and as a consequence utterly affecting. Through them also, the script encourages us to sympathise with Adam's situation, and there is a telling emotional weight dependent on how it will be resolved by the end of the film, which adds to the film's endearing hold. You can't fault any of the artistic decisions behind the film: most shots look incredibly good, and as an appreciator of film it's very obvious that the director has very consciously chosen his every one of them. No note is unintended, no stroke accidental, and the film feels extremely well-versed for that diligent approach. A film can often live and die on its soundtrack - in certain cases, the selection of 15 or so well-selected tracks can add a tangible gloss of cool to a film that would otherwise be far less engaging (see: Juno, The Wackness), but it is an area that often gets overlooked. Thankfully, with 50/50 that isn't the case, and it is incredibly easy to recommend the added purchase of the soundtrack alongside the blu-ray: added to the easy way that the film tells its central story, the musical accompaniment feels like another link in the chain to really pulling the audience in. There is nothing explicit in the musical choices, and while they are certainly often given more precedence than other soundtrack mixes, at no stage are we lifted out of the film as a result, and that takes some doing.

If there is to be any criticism of 50/50 it must come for the portrayal of Rachael (Dallas Howard's repulsive girlfriend), which is rather spiteful, and extremely cartoon-like. She is the least convincing of all of the characters, and you get the real sense that her portrayal is a somewhat vindictive punishment for the transgressions of a real-life counterpart. Unfortunately for the authenticity of the film, there isn't really any space for that venom and it sticks out like a sore thumb, especially in straight comparison with Anna Kendrick's new love interest. If you took away the cancer element, 50/50 would still be a successful human interest story about flawed relationships, and its limited goals would perhaps still have been met, but with it, and the emotional rawness, as well as the triumphant comic moments it inspires (like using cancer to pick up girls) it is all the better without ever being manipulative or overly sentimental. Aside from Bryce Dallas-Howard, the acting is flawless (though she does as well as could be expected with the material provided), and the chemistry between Rogen and Gordon-Levitt in particular is worth the cover price alone. Quality


All in all, 50/50 looks incredibly good in high definition: it is in fact an almost flawless visual transfer, stunningly natural and boasting wonderfully strong textures and a level of detail that is hugely impressive while also retaining a pleasant level of film grain. Colour and light are beautifully presented in both interior and exterior scenes, and realism has been an obvious priority in the palette, skin tones and the entire aesthetic approach. Black levels are occasionally unnaturally deep given the natural light of the rest of the print, but it is very much a minor flaw. Audio-wise, it's the same story of excellence to an almost flawless degree: realism is again at the forefront, with a dynamic and engaging atmospheric track adding depth to all scenes, and dialogue given near perfectly precise clarity. There isn't much in terms of range to play with, but this is very much the case of an understated but completely successful track. The songs, which are all excellent, are also very well presented. Extras


A reasonable, if not exactly spectacular group of extra features, including a very good audio commentary, and some nice personal touches from the team talking about their own experiences of cancer, as well as a look at writer Will Reiser's own experiences that lead him to write the film. Audio Commentary with Seth Rogen, Producers Ben Karlin and Evan Goldberg, Writer Will Reiser, and Director Jonathan Levine. Deleted Scenes: "Mom Wants a Third Option", "Lentil Nut Loaf", "Adam Returns to SPR", "Alan Gives Adam His Tie", and "Adam Collapses on the Street". Available with optional commentary from Jonathan Levine. The Story of 50/50 Life Inspires Art: The Bar Scene #1, The Bar Scene #2, The Hospital, and The Office. Seek and Destroy BD-Live. 50/50 is available to buy now on blu-ray and DVD.

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