When it comes to '50/50,' I've heard both sides of the story. On one hand, I've heard that people who have lived through cancer treatment can't even watch the whole movie because it hits too close to home. On the other hand I received an email from a reader commenting on my theatrical review in the newspaper. He went on to discuss how the movie hardly resembled the type of fight he and his wife dealt with when she was ill:
"My wife and I saw '50/50' yesterday after reading your 3.5-star review. She is a cancer survivor who traveled the entire road from chemo to surgery. I went along every step the way. I don't think the movie deserves a 3.5-star rating. The emotional range is somewhat shallow compared to what I saw in real life over the year+ to get through treatment…We felt there should have been more focus on the quiet courage of facing cancer while trying to maintain a sense of positive normalcy. Normal is everything. That was lacking."
So which is true? Having and fighting cancer is a very personal thing, something that touches each life differently. '50/50' was loosely based on the experiences of writer Will Reiser and his real-life battle with cancer. His buddy through the whole ordeal? None other than actor Seth Rogen.
Here is my take. This film is based on the real-life situation of a comedy writer. Of course he's going to look at it a bit differently. Rogen convinced Reiser to write the screenplay while he was enduring his cancer battle. So we know that it truly is coming from a genuine place.
Reiser's situation is embodied by Adam, played magnificently by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt was a last-minute addition to the movie – Adam was originally going to be played by James McAvoy. I recently voted in the Utah Film Critics Association year-end awards and we unanimously awarded Joseph Gordon-Levitt Best Actor. It's a well deserved win.
'50/50' isn't an overly emotional depiction of cancer. Adam is a strong person, and he's trying his best to hide how much having cancer scares him. I actually see things a little differently than the man who emailed me. Adam is desperately trying to keep his life normal. He wants nothing more than to feel normal. He wants to pretend like nothing is wrong. He doesn't want people to wait on him hand and foot. He takes the bus after his chemo appointments because he doesn't want to bother anyone for a ride. He's proud, and desperately wants everything to get back to the way it was.
'50/50' was one of my favorite films of the year. I've personally never had to deal with having cancer or having a loved one with the disease, but to me, '50/50' feels genuine. It's coming from the mind of a comedic writer so you have to keep that in mind. Comedians deal with things differently than us normal folk do. Still, Adam is scared. He's been told his chances of survival are fifty-fifty. Kyle informs him if he was a casino game he'd have the best odds, but in the game of life those odds are extremely daunting.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Summit Entertainment release. It comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. It's coded as a Region A only release.
'50/50' looks fantastic on Blu-ray, especially for a low-key comedy-drama. The 1080p picture shines with minute detail that closely replicates the experience I had when I saw it on the big screen for the first time.
The moment I really noticed the transfer's attention to color is the moment we first see Bryce Dallas Howard's burgundy red hair. It shimmers in the sun and even glows indoors. From there the movie has no reservations about using splashes of color here and there – as with Rachael's paintings – in a movie set in overcast Seattle. Even when the movie reverts to its dominant earth tone look with grays and light blues dominating the color scheme they still appear vibrant and lifelike.
Textures look wonderful, like you're looking under a microscope. From the woven texture of Adam's knit caps to the rocky brick faces of city buildings, we can see every bump like we were looking at it in real life. I didn't notice any compression issues. Crushing is never really a hindrance (except on a few indoor occasions), as blacks appear deep and resolute. Edges are firm. Even mid- to long-range photography yields a wealth of detail. This is one of the best looking dramatic films you'll see on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for '50/50' is heavy on talking and light on everything else, but that's the type of movie it is. Dialogue is always produced with the utmost clarity. Even when Rogen mumbles through some of his lines it's easy to hear him – like when he's sitting next to a girl he's just slept with talking about how many machine guns are in the movie they're watching.
When silence is called for this mix delivers. When Adam gets that fateful news all the sound vanishes. Adam only hears the mumbled words of the doctor as he tries to explain the type of cancer he has. It's an effective effect which is made perfect by the movie's great mix.
Rears are busy with activity whether it be an office party, a crowded coffee shop, or the busy streets of Seattle. There's a lot to love about this soundtrack. Even the bass kicks in every now and then to emphasize some of the soundtrack's musical choices. You won't be disappointed by the way this one sounds.
In my mind, '50/50' is one of the best movies I've seen that deals with the topic of cancer. Not because come Oscar time we're going to be fawning over the performances or the screenplay, but because the people in this movie act like real people would act, and sometimes that's all you need for a great movie. The very strong audio and video presentations, and the thoughtful collection of short special features only adds to my high recommendation of this movie.