Flip a Coin, by Jack Fleischer
50/50 is a gentle touch comedy. It’s not wacky or zany, and while it is heartwarming, it’s not syrupy. This is a comedy that seems pretty firmly tied to reality, and the humor is born out of realistic depictions of a young man in unusual circumstances. This is most likely because the film was written by comedy writer/producer Will Reiser, who happens to be both a real life friend of Seth Rogen, and a cancer survivor. This is a solid film that addresses some real issues in a touching manner, and while I feel for all the characters, I can’t say that this movie left much of an impression on me.
Our story begins when public radio producer Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) goes in to the doctor’s office with back issues, and leaves with a cancer diagnosis that according to WebMD has a 50% chance of recovery.
The strong parts of this film are in the performances from both Gordon-Levitt and his mother, played by Anjelica Huston. There’s one scene in particular between the two of them, just before Adam goes into surgery, which really is a heart squeezer. Anna Kendrick also does a pleasant turn as Adam’s therapist. I also really dug on the brief but touching appearances by Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall. Bryce Dallas Howard does a decent job, but nothing as good as her performance earlier this year in The Help.
Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen, and that’s not bad, it’s what I expect. More to the point, I’d like to mention that while this movie has some similar themes to Funny People, they don’t really have much if any crossover … other than Seth Rogen as some version of himself. Rogen is funny here, and is easily the comic highpoint.
Other strong parts of this film include three scenes; the heartbreaking ineptitude of the doctor’s delivery of his cancer diagnosis, Adam’s car ride with his therapist, and what I feel may be the most eerily accurate depiction of an edible pot high ever caught on film.
I wish I had more insight into this film, but this is one of those pieces where pretty much all can be gleaned from the trailer. A quiet young man finds himself in an unthinkable situation. Lost and confused he tries to make the best of it thanks to friends both new and old, and in spite of family. Happy ending, thanks for watching.
In what I suppose might be a no-no for a film reviewer I recently saw an interview with Seth Rogen where he talked about this film and about how he wanted Reiser to write it, because it seemed to be a different kind of cancer story. Rogen talked about how Reiser didn’t behave like he had cancer. He wanted to tell the story of a man who just kept working at his job, and living his life in normal ways, all while fighting for his life. Instead of bucket listing, he barrels through.
That sounds like a great idea, and I feel like the end product may have strayed a little from that original conceit.
While there are elements of that here, I still feel like this is a fairly standard movie in which a man who doesn’t really know himself learns to love life after nearly losing it. Oddly enough one of the only questions I felt wasn’t well answered in the narrative was whether or not he wound up staying at his job during his treatment.
This is a good movie. It moved me. I rooted for Adam to live. I laughed. I even shed a tear or two. The reality is that this is one hell of a great true story, but as a movie, it’s merely good.