50/50 (Summit Entertainment, R)

 So while 50/50 reeks of being an Apatow rip-off, it actually transcends its Apatowian trappings and succeeds even where Judd himself had previously failed.




There’s a certain type of comedy that’s just really easy to watch: They don’t try too hard, they’re effortlessly funny, but they’re also maybe not overly intelligent, so if you’re in the mood to turn your brain off, it will suit you just fine. It’s this type of comedy that has come to be associated with Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are all good examples). Though he certainly wasn’t the first; he’s just the most recently consistent (ignoring Funny People, which didn’t really work at all).
Now we have 50/50, which is something closer to an easygoing drama. To be sure, Apatow’s movies certainly have their dramatic elements and that’s part of what makes them work, but the tone of 50/50 is a little more somber and reflective—you can tell that the filmmakers are shooting for something else here (Oscars, maybe). Also, there’s the fact that Apatow had nothing to do with this one—not director, not writer, not producer, though that’s easy to forget given that Seth Rogen is one of the leads and the plot is alarmingly similar to Funny People. it’s clear that writer Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine were influenced by Apatow creatively (they also apparently based it in part on past experiences), and I’m sure Apatow’s success helped to get this movie greenlit.
What I’ve been dancing around here is that 50/50 is a movie about cancer. More specifically, 27-year-old Adam (the always-good Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and his doctor gives him roughly 50/50 odds of beating it. The movie winds up not being so much about the cancer itself, but the ways in which it changes Adam’s behavior and the way the people in his life treat him. His best friend and co-worker Kyle (Rogen, here turning in his best performance since Knocked Up) sees it as an opportunity to pick up chicks at bars (thanks, pity card!); Adam’s artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, here landing halfway between her usual types: cute and bitchy) seems vaguely wary of being tethered to Adam indefinitely because of it; Adam’s mom (Anjelica Huston) reacts worse that if she had been diagnosed with cancer. All of the ways people cope have the ring of truth, and they’re not always (or even often) played for laughs.
Which is what makes it so strange that 50/50 is as laid back as it is. It’s never overly dramatic and seems to have no interest in making you cry nor being inspirational. Adam’s fun friends are fun, and his bummer friends are bummers. Pretty much like real life. There’s a great big supporting cast of fun characters and, more importantly, character actors here. Standouts (aside from those already mentioned) include Anna Kendrick as Katherine, a young doctor assigned to Adam’s case (the role isn’t too far from her Natalie in Up in the Air, but she’s good at it so I’m willing to give her typecasting a pass this time), and Philip Baker Hall as Alan, an older man with cancer whom Adam meets in the hospital. It’s great to see the appallingly underused Hall in a good role again.
So while 50/50 reeks of being an Apatow rip-off (it seems strange that a movie that takes a relatively serious look at a young man with cancer would also be the type of movie that would be easy to watch), it actually transcends its Apatowian trappings and succeeds even where Judd himself had previously failed. | Pete Timmermann


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