Sunday, October 2, 2011

Movie Review: 50/50

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen
50/50 (2011)
Directed By: Jonathan Levine
Written By: Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Huston

There are some people who, like myself, tend to avoid movies that centre around a fatal illness. These films are usually either one of two extremes -- far too devastating to watch or so sappy and self-important that you can barely sit through its running time. 50/50 is neither, thankfully. Instead it's a quietly intelligent look at one young man's cancer diagnosis and how he resolves to remain upbeat (and somewhat aloof) while undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old radio producer with a slacker best friend (Seth Rogen) and a distant and self-involved girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), finds out he has a rare spinal cancer and that his odds for survival is deadlocked at a 50% chance.

The script by Will Reiser is based on his own battle with cancer six years ago and addresses how he and Rogen, his real-life buddy, dealt with the diagnosis. Gordon-Levitt is more than up for the challenge of filling Reiser's shoes onscreen, delivering a subtle and nuanced performance that is an early frontrunner for an Oscar nomination.

Adam couldn't be any more of an average joe -- the eternal "nice-guy" who enjoys his simple, regular life and its lack of complications. His "everyman" quality makes his diagnosis all the more heartbreaking, especially considering the insensitive manner in which it is delivered by a distracted doctor.

50/50 is a perfect blend of light-hearted comedy and a look at the sadness and fear that accompanies an illness that may very well result in death. Once faced with his own mortality, Adam begins to make some changes in his life -- inspired in part by his eternally optimistic pal, Kyle, and his new young, med-student therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick). With his concerns over his health and his deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend, Rachel, Adam comes to lean on the support offered by Kyle and, especially, Katherine more than ever. However, it's the scenes that Gordon-Levitt shares with Anjelica Huston as his mother where the film really soars. Both give such lovely performances that it's hard not to wish that the script had required them to share more screen time together. Although her role is much smaller than the rest of the cast, Huston's performance is the definition of a perfect supporting role.

The only real flaw in the film is the two main female leads. They are devoid of any real personality -- Howard portrays another variation on the bitchy character she recently played in The Help and Kendrick is still hanging onto the vulnerable smart-aleck characterization she used to earn herself an Oscar nomination for Up in the Air a couple of years ago. However, the film is all about Adam and his friendship with Kyle and director Levine gave both Gordon-Levitt and Rogen the freedom to ad-lib on occasion, which only adds to their chemistry.

While the notion of a lighter, more comedic look at cancer may turn some people off from seeing 50/50, they should know that the movie is also filled with moments of genuine despair and anger over the diagnosis. Watching Adam bond with two older men also suffering from cancer (played by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) is one of the highlights.

50/50 is a feel-good film that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure without falling into the trap of being overly sentimental. Certain scenes will stay with you long after the closing credits.