Friday, September 30, 2011

50/50 Movie Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Seth Rogen (r) star in 50/50

50/50: The Perfect Blend

Conventional wisdom argues against the likely film success of a young man’s battle with cancer. That may be true, but Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 is anything but conventional. In a stroke of casting genius, Sandra-Ken Freeman and Levine matched Joseph Gordon-Levitt with the wonderfully irreverent Seth Rogen... and the rest is history.

Cancer is serious business, and it’s often said that laughter is the best medicine: Truer words are rarely spoken, which is why 50/50 works almost perfectly. Levine displays an uncanny knack of balancing the seriousness of disease with a daring (but dead-on) amount of funny. Combined with one of the best castings in recent memory, Levine is able to reverently address.

One of the biggest compliments I can give to 50/50 is its lack of sugar-coating. The temptation to make everyone feel warm & cuddly is great, especially with this kind of subject matter. But that’s not Levine’s style: His film attacks cancer head-on while staying realistic. Most importantly, the frequent insertion of comedy keeps 50/50 from the dreaded “downer” label... No easy task.

Gordon-Levitt is terrific as Adam, a 27-year-old guy who lives a happy, normal life in Seattle. He works in radio, alongside best friend Kyle (Rogen) and even has a (healthy?) relationship with live-in girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard.) He exercises, lives a clean life and... finds out he has a large malignant tumor that may kill him. Talk about a punch in the stomach.

It’s hard not to sympathize with Adam: He’s a really nice guy and people his age aren’t supposed to find themselves in situations like this. Nevertheless, Adam goes about tackling his challenge with the help of friends and family. Lucky for Adam (and luckier still for the audience) he has the perfect best friend. Men & women face adversity differently (what else is new?) so hand-holding and comforting words are out the window. Well, with friends like Kyle... you don’t have to worry about that. Kyle is constantly upbeat (but not in an annoying fashion.) Whether it’s reveling in catching Rachael’s cheating (hilarious confrontation) or countless attempts at helping Adam get laid (using cancer as an in!) Kyle is just what the doctor ordered. Rogen deserves serious consideration for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Angelica Huston is brilliant as Adam’s mom. Tough as nails, but emotionally tied to her son... Huston’s Diane is another fantastic supporting (in more ways than one) character. The choice to have Adam’s dad suffer from Alzheimer’s is a stroke of genius: It leads to one of the film’s most touching scenes before Adam’s surgery. 50/50 has its share of emotion, but it’s (thankfully) low-key. Still, it may be hard to keep your eyes dry at times. Levine, to his credit, never lingers during these moments... injecting a laugh or two at the right time.

Adam is no Superman, which is good. Too much is made of the Lance Armstrongs of the world... Folks like Lance are exceptions to the rule, not the norm. It’s hard to be brave (not to mention strong) and Adam’s character experiences cancer in a most-believable manner. One last gem is Katie (Anna Kendrick) a 24-year-old doctor/student who tries to comfort Adam. Adam is rightfully cautious to disclose any feelings to someone so inexperienced (Adam is her third patient) but Katie eventually fills an important role in Adam’s life. Philip Baker Hall sneaks in another superb turn in a small role. 50/50 even manages to helps promote the legalization of (medicinal) marijuana in an appealing manner... Again, no small feat in itself.

50/50 rivals Hanna for this year’s best film (so far) It is emotionally uplifting, educational, funny and above all... entertaining. Levine’s mastery of blending drama and comedy is award worthy. It’s a ways off, but keep September 30th marked on your calendar: You simply must experience 50/50 for yourself.

Grade: A-