50/50 Review

One may not believe cancer can be amusing, and in fact it is not, but to the person going through life who is blindsided by the disease, it seems crucial they make good on their situation. That is essentially the hook for "50/50" a dramedy of sorts that shows a most genuine portrait of what it must feel like to be young and sick and how it affects the people that are a part of your life. From a script penned by Seth Rogen's real-life friend Will Reiser who did in fact go through this experience, we are given a glimpse as to why it is just as important to allow yourself to enjoy life as it is to not take it for granted. Director Jonathan Levine who is mainly known for "The Wackness", his own little bio-pic from 2008, gives the film a perfect tone; shifting from humorous moments to ones laced with deep meaning and sadness that really resonate in our protagonist. This really is a moving film, a wonderfully well-rounded movie that is consistently effective both in its humor and moments of hurt. Who would have thought September, usually a dumping ground for crap, would warrant some of the best films of the year so far. After "Drive" on the 16th and "Moneyball" last week, "50/50" definitely continues the streak and does so with an honest, human story that you should go out and see. Now.

Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Adam
(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) upon discovering he has cancer.
The story centers around Adam, a young, genuine guy who is in a relationship with a pretty girl and has a meaningful job working in radio. Adam then begins having night sweats, his back hurts; he goes to the doctor and learns he has cancer. It is at that moment we see why the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is indeed so valuable to this film. Adam is a likable guy, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink...he recycles. He means well in everything he does, and Gordon-Levitt knows exactly how he would respond to such news. He's in shock sure, but he seems more worried about how those around him will react than anything. He is so unsure he gives his girlfriend an out before letting her tell him she is going to take care of him. Too bad she turns out to be the only real source of vengeance Reiser let seep into the script. Bryce Dallas Howard has become accustomed to the bitch role this year playing what could have essentially been the mother to her character here in "The Help", but other than this one sour note, the film moves along nicely with Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen as his best friend Kyle making an interesting pair as well as a great couple of scenes with Anjelica Huston as Adam's mother and Philip Baker Hall as a fellow patient Adam gets chemo with and does weed with. As much as Rogen has played the pot-smoking, moocher before, there is a different level to it here that no doubt comes from Rogen's real life stake in the project. Yea, he is a loud-mouthed, trash talker, but he has a big heart and he cares about his friend. Rogen is firing on all cylinders and after different roles in "The Green Hornet", "Funny People", and "Observe and Report" I don't think I ever realized how much I enjoy just watching Seth Rogen be himself.

Adam and best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) have fun
destroying some "art".
To be honest though, Gordon-Levitt is the real anchor here. If not for him this might have come off more melodrama than either Reiser or Rogen would have liked, but the truth is it is hard to make a movie with this type of subject matter and avoid being overly-sentimental. "50/50" works it out though and while Rogen takes care of most of the humor there is also a nice new relationship brewing between Adam and his therapist Katherine. As played by "Up in the Airs" Anna Kendrick, Katherine is a student gaining her doctorate who is getting experience through patients such as Adam. Adam is skeptical at first, but the awkward banter between the two that becomes an honest learning experience for both of them is something only such gifted actors as Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick could bring. Whether we smile as we watch their chemistry grow or try to hide our chests swelling up as we see Adam sit along side Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer as they receive their chemotherapy from the silence of those awful drips we are fully invested in this character. As the treatment goes on, and the disease gets worse, Adam becomes a darker character, but Gordon-Levitt does not allow this to make him someone we no longer know, he makes him honest. We see why he feels the way he does. Why he doesn't call his mother back, why he won't invite Katehrine in when she gives him a ride home, and why he is afraid to tell Kyle to stop using him to score sex. He is, at his core, that same unselfish guy, who just wants to live in peace. The cancer disturbs that goal, that peace of mind and to watch Adam try to cope with that while allowing the people in his life to go through whatever process they need to is plenty engaging, but it also demonstrates why Gordon-Levitt is one of the best actors of this generation.

Katehrine (Anna Kendrick) and Adam cross some
Doctor/patient boundaries...
When Adam is finally sent into surgery, the film visually describes that culmination of uncertainty perfectly. Not many words are spoken, but everyone understands. The nicely balanced scenes of laughter and heart continue through the movie's conclusion. The actors rising to an occasion that makes "50/50" one of the best films of the year and gives us a certain comfort level that let us know it is okay to laugh in the face of a disease that could kill you. It is okay, in fact, it is probably for the best that you do laugh. This is no "Bucket List" this is what you do when you don't know and you just take it as it is. You shave your head instead of letting the cancer do it for you, you be brutally honest with the girl who cheated on you while you were sick, and you mend relationships while finding out which ones really mean the most to you. It is raunchy, it is heartfelt, but it is not an all out Rogen comedy. It is a great little film that continues Gordon-Levitt's winning streak and delivers a story of finding the humor unlikely places and the joy of quiet triumphs. Odds are, you will love "50/50".