50/50 Review

Difficult as it can be, made more so by a Joseph Gordon-Levitt performance that hits all the notes it needs to, there’s a comfort level to 50/50. It’s not so much a film about a 27-year old undergoing treatment for a rare genetic form of spinal cancer as it is about the people that surround him.

The situation can be dire, relationship issues mounting and health conditions deteriorating, but everyone needs something in this movie. Adam (Levitt) never comes across as selfish, needy, or, desperate, a set of character traits that are not just admirable, but central to the film. He’s in the middle of a circle of people, loved ones, therapists, and friends, all whom connect to the story and this character.

50/50 is an amalgamation of producer Will Reiser’s own experience as he suffered from the same disease, lending an air of authenticity, natural awkwardness, and tremendous emotional pull to the piece. Characters don’t develop so much as they live their lives. They are who they are, so there’s no growth or character arc to discover, and it’s better for it. Nothing changes anybody despite the conditions, which, if there is a message, is clear.

Produced by Evan Goldberg (Superbad) and Seth Rogen, 50/50 is surprisingly capable of restraint and subtlety. Emotional highs or lows and pushed forward gracefully, while laughs and a nearly insurmountable number of pot jokes enter into the script. There’s little question who was involved, and Reiser’s own life story just opened the door for more.

The key is balance though, and 50/50 couldn’t have managed itself any better. The film has such a smooth, natural flow that the events become captivating to watch. There’s interest here, and not just because 50/50 centers on a cancer patient. It never exploits the material or shrewdly tries to elicit sympathy from scenes that don’t warrant it. Adam learns of his condition, there are awkward moments where people in his life find out, and then it rolls along until it can find a way to conclude on solid footing. This one doesn’t want your tears, just your attention, and it rightfully earns that.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Summit issues an AVC encode for 50/50, the original photography downplayed and muted with little intensity in the color. Most exteriors situate themselves near gray, pale flesh tones limiting and other hues downgraded to match. Interiors veer warmly, soaking up oranges to represent dim interior lighting. The transitions can be drastic and even a little jarring.

Sharpness matches the generally flat nature found elsewhere, texture visible if not striking under any circumstances. This is, for lack of better terms, subtle hi-def. Facial detail seems to be hiding and exteriors are pleasing enough to appreciate if not intensely striking. It’s all visible though, the resolution still appreciable and consistency is excellent. Few close-ups fail to produce something of note, and medium shots are well refined.

The encode, with a few exceptions measured in the seconds, shows no signs of struggling with the mild grain structure. Aiding are solid, rich black levels, save for one instance of rather glaring crush and another where they fail to hold firm inside of a car. Contrast on the other hand becomes part of the palette, slightly dimmed and holding back for effect.

It’s hard to imagine anyone seeking 50/50 for reference material (and if you were, seriously?), but Summit’s clean, well cared for encode is appreciative of the cinematography. It doesn’t have all of the visual bells and whistles, but what matters is that nothing impedes on the viewing or distracts from it. Clean (seemingly non-existent too) compression can go a long way towards that goal.

Video ★★★★☆ 

No surprises here either probably. 50/50 comes packed with a DTS-HD mix that wanders and scatters subtly as it needs to without any oomph. There are no dramatic score drops into the low-end, and in fact, there’s little music to be had anywhere. The track is breezy, containing the dialogue tightly in the center with precision balance and care.

Adam’s first doctor visit when he learns he has cancer takes advantage of the soundfield. He blacks out, swirling sound effects filling each channel in a warp-like effect and completed with a little low-end shaking. The disorientation is exceptional. Various clubs and bars produce needed ambiance and background music will hit the subwoofer just a little. It becomes noticeable where it counts.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

The bonus slate begins with a commentary track hosted by director Jonathan Levine, co-star Seth Rogan, producers Ben Karlin & Evan Goldberg, and writer Will Reiser. Five deleted scenes offer optional commentary from Levine himself, those scenes followed up by a general making-of, The Story of 50/50. Life Inspires Art details the inspiration for the film and the real life events that unfolded a few years ago. Seek and Destroy is a selection of behind-the-scenes moments from a specific scene in the film. Summit’s BD-Live access remains.

Extras ★★★☆☆