Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: "50/50"

I was definitely unprepared for the emotional depth of 50/50. The film, directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is marketed more as a comedy, but it is Gordon-Levitt's dramatic range that completely won me over. The former 3rd Rock from the Sun star had struggled to find good roles since the series ended in 2001, but recent standout performances in (500) Days of Summer (2009) and Inception (2010) have made him a hot commodity in Hollywood. The film was written by Will Reiser, a friend of Seth Rogen, who stars in the film. It is semi-autobiographical and highlights the relationship between Reiser and Rogen after Reiser was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a very risky subject to put on screen and the the end result can be successful (see Terms of Endearment) or it can be a weepy mess (see My Sister's Keeper). I see a relationship between 50/50 and the Showtime series The Big C, which stars Laura Linney. Both stories place an emphasis on character and we see the emotional highs and lows. The film has its share of cliches and Anjelica Huston does a fantastic job in a small role - I could picture my own mother acting the exact same way. Anna Kendrick is delightful in her best performance since Up in the Air and Seth Rogen proves can be more than just the funnyman, but the whole film belongs to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He offers a performance that is as emotionally honest as it is mature. He has grown so much as an actor in recent years that I wonder why he had been out of my consciousness for the better part of a decade. 50/50 works as both a comedy and a drama with a great screenplay and great direction, but it is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance that makes the film work. It is everything Love and Other Drugs wanted to be and more.

Adam (Gordon-Levitt) is an easygoing guy who works at a radio station with his best friend Kyle (Rogen). He is dating Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), even though Kyle quite dislikes her. Adam does not have a drivers license because too many people die in car accidents. He also exercises regularly. A nagging back pain finally forces him to consult a doctor and he finds out he has a rare form of spinal cancer. The doctor prescribes chemotherapy to try to reduce the tumor and suggests Adam visit a therapist at the hospital. It turns out that the therapist, Katie (Kendrick), is an just a medical student. Her inexperience makes it hard for Adam to open up to her initially. Rachel stays with Adam, despite telling her that he would be fine with her leaving, and the two eventually begin to drift apart because she has no interest in dealing with his cancer. The other woman in his life, his mother Diane (Huston), has so much trouble handling the news that she threatens to move in with Adam. Through it all, Kyle stays by his side. Kyle goes as far as to use Adam's cancer to help pick up girls at the bar. Adam meets Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer) during chemotherapy and the three form a strong bond. Mitch's eventual passing hits Adam very hard and it becomes a turning point in his relationship with Kyle, his mother and Katie, his therapist.

The three most important people in my life have had cancer. My parents conquered cancer, but my grandma passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2006. Cancer is a horrible disease and there is hardly a person in the world who has not been affected by it. We are lucky to live in a time where cancer diagnoses are not the death sentences they once were, but there is a still a long way to go before we can find a cure. This week at school we had our Terry Fox Run and it is such a positive reminder that one person can make a difference. So many films highlight the dark and depressing side of cancer, but the battle brings people together and relationships are strengthened. 50/50 does a fantastic job showing Adam's emotional progression and maturity without being morose. I do not think that the film sugarcoats cancer. Adam and Kyle are best friends and their friendship is forever changed and their bond strengthened because of cancer. It is hard to classify 50/50 as either a comedy or drama because it is so deeply rooted in honest human emotion. I doubt the film would have felt so real had Will Reiser not experienced cancer firsthand. Sure the film had a few cliches and Rachel was painted as a one-dimensional, insensitive bitch, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt elevated the film above any and all weaknesses that the film may have. 50/50 works because it gives us a main character to champion and we stand behind Adam through the whole ordeal as if we were as bonded to him as Kyle.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

1 comment:

  1. I actually quite enjoyed this one. Although it may have sat a little on the fluffier side I think it struck the right balance between funny and sad. It wasn't too heavy handed about the difficulties surrounding Adam's (Levitt's) cancer and the situations weren't all that far fetched. Generally an enjoyable film.