50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

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mfunk9786
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50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

#1 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:16 am

50/50 delivers on all of its promises, and that might be part of what's keeping it from being the excellent film that it deserves to be. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent in the lead, as a fit, mid-20s kid who works for public radio and gets diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and finds his life, well - smartly, his life isn't turned upside-down in this film. It's run down. If there's anything I've heard from friends or relatives who have been diagnosed with cancer and gotten chemotherapy treatments, it doesn't change your life the way people who have never been afflicted with the disease might want to tell you it will (enter Anna Kendrick's adorable-but-typecast young psychotherapist role here) - it just runs it down to the bone. Seth Rogen is great yet again (seriously everyone, I know you might want to write him off, but he is finding himself a nice Albert Brooks-y groove at this point with smart choices and well-written roles) as the best friend, benefiting from his friend's diagnosis in an effort to get him to realize that he can also benefit from it. But the film makes another wise choice: It shows that even though Gordon-Levitt's character could potentially benefit from the fact that he's a sympathy-case, which has to have crossed every unattached cancer patient's mind ever, he's too tired to do so. Chemo is indeed a nightmare, and it is played with appropriate seriousness here, while still managing to keep the film light and watchable. Some serious and overwhelmingly emotional life lessons are learned in the third act of the film, but it unnecessarily extends beyond the point that it needs to (despite some irresistibly amusing final scenes) and has the impact of the early final act reduced as a result.

Oh, and as for the charges of misogyny leveled at the Bryce Dallas Howard character: women like this exist. Men like this exist too, but that's been played out in popular films and television so much that no one even notices anymore. But when a woman like Howard's character is shown on screen, certain people tend to overreact because woman on screen are either supposed to be incredibly fragile or unattainably strong. Women are capable of being emotionally distant, neglectful, and deceitful - and it's refreshing to see that Jonathan Levine was smart enough not to turn a blind-eye from some of the truths of the script of this film, and is willing to find the warts in all of his characters. This is a new kind of film about illness - finally, real people are on screen getting sick [sorry, David Lynch's first short film], not idealized modern day saints who sit around wondering "why me? I'm perfect!"

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Brian C
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Re: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

#2 Post by Brian C » Thu Oct 13, 2011 11:23 am

mfunk9786 wrote:Oh, and as for the charges of misogyny leveled at the Bryce Dallas Howard character: women like this exist. Men like this exist too, but that's been played out in popular films and television so much that no one even notices anymore. But when a woman like Howard's character is shown on screen, certain people tend to overreact because woman on screen are either supposed to be incredibly fragile or unattainably strong. Women are capable of being emotionally distant, neglectful, and deceitful - and it's refreshing to see that Jonathan Levine was smart enough not to turn a blind-eye from some of the truths of the script of this film, and is willing to find the warts in all of his characters.
This doesn't really address what I see as the film's misogyny. Of course women like this exist, and of course a woman in a not-terribly-serious relationship is going to have problems coping with the new demands on her that she's taken on (and probably feels forced into to some degree). And of course, even without the strain of dealing with disease, people cheat all the time. So I don't have a problem with the film having her act the way she does.

My problem is with the obvious glee the filmmakers indulge in to cut her down to size. Surely, if it's laudable to show her "warts and all", it's equally shameful to punish her and her alone for having those warts. I can get past Rogen's cruelly over-the-top, invective-filled rant, because I can accept that he's an asshole and probably would act like that. And I suppose I can even grant the destruction of Howard's painting on the same grounds. But what I can't get past is the distinct feeling that I was supposed to think this behavior - on both counts - was something I was supposed to find cathartic and just as an audience member.

The film treats her so hatefully, and why? Rogen's character is an intolerable selfish ass from start to finish, but the movie goes out of its way to redeem him as a Good Friend. Yet Howard's character is denied any sympathy whatsoever in the service of making her an "emotionally distant, neglectful, and deceitful" bitch. Is it too much to ask that's she be given a little shading, instead of making her a stereotype on the grounds that "women like this exist"? That's simply not a justification - examples of any stereotype exist out there somewhere.

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Re: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

#3 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 12:58 pm

I don't think she's without redeeming qualities - she seems to make a genuine effort to be helpful but her discomfort grows and she deals with it in the wrong way, period. In a cruel way. That, to me, makes whatever follows justifiable. If the characters' genders were reversed, no one would have batted an eye at an [also deserved] cutting down to size of the theoretical sleazeball boyfriend.

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Re: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

#4 Post by Professor Wagstaff » Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:18 pm

I had hoped that Gordon-Levitt and Howard's scene on the porch would surprise the audience and humanize her some, but alas, it didn't. In fact, her crying and kissing Adam (which he did not return) seemed like an act to make her look pathetic on top of heartless. Everyone but Gordon-Levitt could see the relationship was over long before this. People would like to feel morally superior to Howard's character, but the fact is that many people stick around in relationships that should have ended because a tragedy has made them feel obligated to avoid personal guilt or public shame. It's a delicate situation and I wanted Howard's character to be angry in that scene rather than how it played out. I think there's an idea in the film that the writer and director would like to humanize her more, but they didn't work on that enough.

Also, along with Knocked Up, this marks the second time a Seth Rogen character is supposed to be redeemed in the eyes of the audience because he read a book.

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Brian C
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Re: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

#5 Post by Brian C » Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:28 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:I don't think she's without redeeming qualities - she seems to make a genuine effort to be helpful but her discomfort grows and she deals with it in the wrong way, period. In a cruel way. That, to me, makes whatever follows justifiable. If the characters' genders were reversed, no one would have batted an eye at an [also deserved] cutting down to size of the theoretical sleazeball boyfriend.
I still think you're conflating the characters' actions - which you're condemning in Howard's case and justifying in JGL's and Rogen's cases - with the filmmakers' treatment of those actions. I can understand that JGL and Rogen would be angry and lash out, but I think the way that the filmmakers revel in her destruction, and invite the audience to revel in it with them, is disgusting.

Besides which, what is so "cruel" about her behavior in the first place? It takes a rather unempathetic viewpoint to see her that way. Even you are acknowledging that she made a "genuine effort", yet when she fails, through normal human weakness, she's worthy of whatever cruelty is thrown at her? That's ridiculous. She didn't set out to hurt anyone, but JGL and Rogen could have simply decided to stone her for her sins for all the filmmakers are concerned. Actually that's more or less what they do, albeit symbolically through the destruction of her painting. What exactly does constitute misogyny in your book?

It's not like the other female characters are much better, by the way. You have the overbearing and protective mother - no stereotype there! - and Kendrick's character is pure fantasy. She's a fantasy as a therapist, young and cute and nurturing, and unethically taking a personal interest in her clients. Well, not all her clients, it seems, but rather just the one who she falls in love with. This is not unlike the fantasy of a prostitute falling in love with her john, Pretty Woman style, when someone who's paid to be interested in you turns out to actually be interested in you. Then she pivots into a fantasy girlfriend, still warm and nurturing and full of nothing but encouragement and devoting herself to his wellness.

I'm actually hating this film more discussing it here than I already did on my own.

onedimension
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Re: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

#6 Post by onedimension » Thu Oct 13, 2011 2:00 pm

My girlfriend wanted to see this- it felt like The 40 Year Old Cancer Virgin-same basic emotional logic and humor of a Judd Apatow comedy, but with a more subdued palette to make it seem "realistic." It succeeded, in that respect, by sketching the limits of the Seth Rogen type a little more astutely than Knocked-Up-etc.

But it made chemotherapy seem fun- sit around and get high with cool dudes (Phillip Baker Hall!, who's 80, by the way), cons = a little vomiting, missing out on stranger-sex, and lying down a lot.

Although the movie was apparently based on a True Story, the Kendrick character was an invention for the screenplay- which tells us something about the writer's psychology, if the mother & bad girlfriend are reality-based.. I kept thinking of the other patient-analyst relationship in Nightmare Alley.

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Re: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

#7 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 2:08 pm

She doesn't fail through normal human weakness, she neglects and betrays her sick boyfriend instead of being honest with him and telling him she needs to move on.

As for the Kendrick character, what makes her such a fantasy? She's clearly got her problems as a therapist, and as you mentioned, is ethically questionable because she's new to the job. I wasn't aware that there's never been a young female therapist working in a teaching hospital who wouldn't leave one of her patients waiting for a bus before. She is far from typical manic pixie dream girl territory, especially if the film had ended where I thought it should have (but even so, I still stand by my disagreement with your assessment of her character).

And jeez, I just have to point out that you are hugely short-selling the complexity of Anjelica Huston's character, and her and Gordon-Levitt's narrative arc. I have no real desire to convince you to like this film, but I'm surprised you're so put off by it.

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Brian C
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Re: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)

#8 Post by Brian C » Thu Oct 13, 2011 4:46 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:She doesn't fail through normal human weakness, she neglects and betrays her sick boyfriend instead of being honest with him and telling him she needs to move on.
I do not understand how the second part of this sentence supports the first part. Normal humans find honesty difficult in difficult situations all the time.

And I find it extremely difficult to believe, given the attitude of the film, that she would have been treated as a hero if she had been "honest with him and [told] him she needs to move on". As it is, she's the only character in the film who puts her own needs over Sick Adam's (even the therapist!), and it doesn't seem coincidental that she's the villian.
I have no real desire to convince you to like this film, but I'm surprised you're so put off by it.
Well, I don't hate it as much as the somewhat similar but twice as irritating Love and Other Drugs. So it's got that going for it.

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