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Movie Review: 50/50

September 30, 2011

50/50 – An eOne Films’ Release

Release Date: September 30th, 2011

Rated 14A for mature theme, coarse language and substance abuse

Running time: 99 minutes

Jonathan Levine (dir.)

Will Reiser (writer)

Michael Giacchino (music)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam

Seth Rogen as Kyle

Anna Kendrick as Katherine

Bryce Dallas Howard as Rachael

Anjelica Huston as Diane

Serge Houde as Richard

Andrew Airlie as Dr. Ross

Matt Frewer as Mitch

Philip Baker Hall as Alan

Donna Yamamoto as Dr. Walderson

©eOne Films.  All Rights Reserved.  Photo Credit: Chris Helcermanas-Benge

(L to R) Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kyle (Seth Rogen) in 50/50.

Our reviews below:


50/50 Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

To borrow from the movie’s tagline, 50/50 “beats the odds” to deliver a raunchy comedy about cancer that profoundly moves us with scenes of heartbreaking drama.  The fact that it never once delves into manipulative melodrama makes it almost miraculous.  This is a genuine balancing act to be sure, but it is one masterfully pulled off by writer Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine.  By a long shot, 50/50 is one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.  Or as I like to call it, the film that should have won the audience award at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.

Early on in the film, 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is hit with the news that he has a rare form of spinal cancer.  Odds of survival are 50/50.  His girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas-Howard) claims she wants to be there, but seems utterly preoccupied with hanging out at art galleries trying to sell her abstract work.  His mother (Anjelica Huston) wants to move in.  But when he tells Kyle (Seth Rogen) the news, his best friend starts using humour and the prospect of picking up girls to help them both through the rough time.  Adam is also assigned to a young therapist working towards her doctorate, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), and the two start reaching out to each other in a way that goes beyond their weekly appointments.

The movie has an excellent ensemble cast of actors who all play extremely well off of each other’s talents, always supporting and never once upstaging one another.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserves an Oscar nomination for his beautifully understated work.  He rarely ever raises his voice, but his eyes and bald head perfectly illustrate the pain and suffering of his character.  Between this and his equally brilliant dramatic work in Take This Waltz, Seth Rogen also deserves serious awards recognition.  As always, Anna Kendrick is charming and wonderful as the novice therapist, delivering the sort of performance that makes it hard not to care for her character.  This is her best work since the brilliant Up in the Air.

As I left the theatre, I found it very hard to remember a single scene that didn’t work in 50/50.  Will Reiser’s semi-autobiographical screenplay is one of the best of the year, and on every level the film deserves multiple Oscar nominations.  Whether it was the laughs found amidst the drama or the tears that weren’t far behind throughout every scene, this is a film that masterfully handles every emotion without ever hitting a false or manipulative note.  Every moment and line of dialogue made me feel something undeniably real, making 50/50 rank very high up on my list of the year’s best movies.


50/50 Review by Erin V.  

**** (out of 4)

Based on the true story of screenwriter Will Reiser, 50/50 is an inspirational and moving film about one man’s battle against cancer.

When Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in his back, at 27 it seems his life could be over.  His girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and him are growing apart, and besides his slightly overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston) – who also has his father with Alzeimers’ to take care of – he starts to feel that the only one that he can count on is his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogan).  He is assigned Katherine (Anna Kendrick), as his therapist at the hospital, although finds it a bit awkward to talk to her at first, in that she’s 24 and still completing her doctorate.  At first Adam doesn’t want those around him to take on too much responsibility, trying to deal with things himself, but as time goes on, he starts to realize that sometimes other people need to help you, in order to be able deal with the emotions they’re experiencing themselves – and that he needs them too.

The film quietly and believably takes us through Adam’s experience with cancer, and his 50% odds at survival.  It is a film that has the ability to bring tears to your eyes as you feel the frustration at the disease from Adam and those around him, but it is a genuine portrayal and never becomes melodramatic.  The cast, and in particular Rogan and Gordon-Levitt, are all very good here, working with a script that’s superb.  There were certain scenes where the tone reminded me of another very good film, Never Let Me Go, in the understated emotion of the characters/situations.  It’s rated 14A for drug content and language, so won’t be for everyone, but for certain it is a film that young adults in particular will embrace and have as a drama with characters they can connect to.  For my money, 50/50 is definitely worth seeing.


50/50 Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Cancer is not a topic people think about when seeing a comedy.  Then again, 50/50 is not your average cancer film.  It never delves into melodrama, nor is it a purely comedic or depressing film.  Based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own struggle with cancer six years ago, this movie depicts the struggles that a young man, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has with a rare form of spinal cancer.  His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) offers support, often in well-meaning but inappropriate ways.  50/50 depicts the various reactions that an individual with cancer might have, from anger, despair, fear and hope.

One sees the effect that Adam’s cancer has on those close to him, like his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas-Howard), his parents and his best friend Kyle.  One of the best things about the film is how brilliantly underplayed and believable the characters are.  We not only see Adam’s complex emotions, but the depth of the feelings of those around him.  One relationship that I found believable was the awkwardness between Adam and his young therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick).  There is chemistry between them, yet those feelings cannot be accessed, lest the patient/therapist relationship be broken.

Another moving point is the friendship that develops between Adam and his senior-aged fellow patients.  Seth Rogen plays Kyle simultaneously as Adam’s kind and caring buddy as well as funny man to Gordon-Levitt.  The fact that Will Reiser based the character on his own friendship with Rogen really shows here.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and possibly even Seth Rogen may get nominations for this movie.  I would actually be surprised if 50/50 gets no nominations at the Oscars.  It is deserving of Best Picture, Best Actor and possibly Best Original Screenplay.

Michael Giacchino’s quiet underscore finishes off this beautiful film quite nicely.  50/50 is a flawless movie that is moving on every level.  Whether you have been touched by cancer or not, don’t miss this inspirational human drama.


50/50 Review by Maureen

**** (out of 4)

It’s hard to make a movie about cancer and not have it come across as melodramatic or depressing.  Based on his own true story, writer Will Reiser’s 50/50 is a completely sincere, heartwarming and funny depiction of a young man dealing with a diagnosis of life-threatening cancer.  Every word of dialogue is believable and never once does 50/50 feel like emotional manipulation.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 27-year-old given a 50/50 chance of survival after the discovery of a cancerous tumour on his spine.  He presumes his artist girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas-Howard) will be his main source of emotional support through his chemotherapy.  Adam soon realizes he has an even stronger circle of support in his mother (Anjelica Huston), his therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), two chemo buddies, Mitch (Matt Frewer) and Alan (Phillip Baker Hall), but mainly his best friend and co-worker, Kyle (Seth Rogen).

It’s the scenes between Adam and Kyle that are the heart of this movie.  Kyle takes Adam on a live it up however you can journey that involves bar visits and medicinal weed.  Their bond is so natural and believable that it works on every level.  Also really nice to watch is the budding supportive relationship between Adam and his 24-year-old therapist who is still doing her doctorate.  The dialogue between them feels real and sweet.  The scenes with Adam’s two chemo buddies are also funny and touching.  But the scene that moved me the most is when Adam is heading into surgery and he tries to reassure his essentially non-verbal dad (Serge Houde) who has Alzheimer’s.  So much happens in this scene with so little dialogue.

Aside from the wonderfully written screenplay by Will Reiser the strength of 50/50 lies in the strong performances by the two leads.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen are wonderful to watch in this movie.  I sincerely hope these talented actors receive some attention during awards season.  In fact, the film as a whole deserves serious recognition come awards time.  50/50 is one of my favourite movies of 2011.  This one’s a winner even if the cancer storyline doesn’t have personal meaning for you.  Prepare to be both entertained and moved by 50/50.


50/50 Review by Tony

**** (out of 4)

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kyle (Seth Rogen) are best friends working at a Seattle public radio station. Adam finds out he has cancer on his spine with even odds of survival–50/50. From Adam’s diagnosis through chemotherapy to surgery the odds never change, leaving the outcome a toss-up until the end. Meanwhile Adam has to deal with his own feelings and the effects on those around him, including Kyle, his current girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), parents (Anjelica Huston and Serge Houde), fellow patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) and the awkward inexperienced counsellor Katherine (Anna Kendrick).

Based on a true story from Seth Rogen’s friend Will Reiser and directed in Vancouver by  Jonathan Levine, 50/50 always rings true with all the often crude humour and drama that a young man going through cancer could experience with the support of those around him. The excellent cast moves perfectly through a flawless script accompanied by great tunes and a fine score from Michael Giacchino. One of the best films of this or any year, 50/50 is not to be missed.


Consensus: With excellent leading work from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, and a wonderfully believable semi-autobiographical screenplay by Will Reiser, 50/50 is a funny and often deeply moving film that masterfully deals with the difficulties of having cancer without ever delving into melodrama.  **** (Out of 4)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2011 3:03 am

    Thanks Maureen,
    very touching what you had to say about the Dad (Serge Houde). As a Character Actor, I often pass unnoticed; so it was a pleasant surprise to read your kind words.
    Thanks again.
    Serge Houde
    P.S.: Have a look at


    • October 1, 2011 11:48 am

      Bienvenu. Sometimes it is the little subtle things that make the difference between a film being good and great. Merci for your wonderful performance.



  2. November 5, 2011 9:57 am

    Brilliant set of reviews! I’d be happy if you took a look at mine!


    • November 5, 2011 12:34 pm

      Agreed – 50/50 is one of 2011’s very best movies. We appreciate your kind words on our reviews.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your own review of the film!

      -John C.


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