Thursday, September 29, 2011

Movie Review: 50/50

Earlier this week, Andrew and I had the fortunate opportunity to attend an advanced screening of 50/50, the new comedy/drama, starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, that examines the toll a terminal illness takes on a person and their relationships. I had high hopes going in...all the press reviews had been positive and I'm a big fan of both Rogen and JGL. Here's what I have to say:

The plot for this film is incredibly simple: Adam (Gordon-Levitt) is a 27 year old working in the radio industry. He's got a great best friend, Kyle (Rogen), and a beautiful girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), so life is good. Then with no warning, he is diagnosed with cancer..."back" cancer, as Adam eloquently refers to it in the film. Upon diagnosis, Adam researches his disease and finds out he has a 50/50 chance of survival (hence, the title). Naturally, this kind of news would change anyone's world, and this film shows us how a person and their relationships with family, friends, and lovers change after such a life-altering event, whether it be for better or worse.

For a film like this to work, the cast needs to be individually solid while creating true chemistry amongst the group. JGL certainly did his star no harm with his portrayal of Adam. Naturally, of the whole cast, he had the most complex role, and he handled the several dimensions of his character with ease. There is one scene, toward the end of the film, when Adam's frustration boils over, and JGL's performance is powerful, but restrained. Can't wait to see more from him. Rogen, as Kyle, is his typical, raunchy self. I'm pretty sure the first real joke he cracked referenced fellatio. No surprise there. That said, due to the subject nature, he was forced to step outside his typical funny man character. While it might've been outside his dramatic comfort zone, Rogen "played" this role in real life and it showed (he is friends with writer, Will Reiser, who the film is based on). As a tandem, I thought JGL and Rogen were a perfect team, genuinely portraying how cancer would change the dynamic of a friendship. Also heavily involved in the film are Adam's therapist, Dr. Katherine (Anna Kendrick), and his mother, played by Anjelica Houston. Kendrick plays a very similar role to the one she played in Up in the Air: a highly educated, young professional, that, between her "by-the-book" nature and inexperience, has trouble really connecting with people. It's interesting to see her relationship with Adam grow as the narrative continues. As expected from a veteran, Anjelic Houston puts in a solid performance as Adam's mother. Their relationship is much like many mother-son relationships: she truly loves her son and wants to be involved in his life, but Adam views his mother as being smothering. There's a scene at the end of the film when these two "connect", and it was one of my favorites. The only member of the cast that I can't say was above average was Bryce Dallas Howard. Though, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt that she had a lame character. The role of Adam's girlfriend had a purpose, but Howard didn't make the role her own and could have been easily replaced with another actress without anyone noticing.

But with all credit due to the cast, the director, Jonathan Levine (The Wackness), and writer, Will Reiser, deserve immense amounts of praise as well. Levine continues to build his small, but impressive, directorial resume. His knack for balance played a prominent role in keeping the film interesting. You won't find yourself laughing at Seth Rogen's raunchiness for too long before you come crashing back down to the reality that is terminal illness. Impressively, this is Reiser's first writing credit for the big screen. The story is based on his experience with cancer, and that authenticity is apparent in the writing.

Overall, this is in my top three movies I've seen this year, the other two being The Beginners and Midnight in Paris. I can't recommend it highly enough. I really hope the raunchy comedy does not discard this movie from Oscar considerations...that would be such a shame. With so many stale, recycled films out there, do yourself a favor and check this one out, you won't be disappointed. Though, I would hesitantly suggest this to someone who has dealt with cancer personally, whether it be themselves or a loved one. The serious moments in the film are incredibly depressing and emotional, so they could easily trigger some bad memories. But then again, maybe the humor, mixed with the reality, would be a good coping mechanism...I feel like that is part of the reason why this film was made. After all, laughter is a cure for just about everything.

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