**** (out of 5)
September 30, 2011
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as ADAM
Seth Rogen as KYLE
Anna Kendrick as KATHERINE
Bryce Dallas Howard as RACHAEL
Anjelica Huston as DIANE
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Unlike what seems to be every other blogger on the planet, I’m not enamored with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Don’t get me wrong… he’s not a bad actor. I through he was great in “Third Rock from the Sun,” and he’s good at what he does. But I wasn’t wild about “Brick,” and I loathed “(500) Days of Summer.” He was fine in “Inception,” but he’s hardly a do-no-wrong actor.
So I was a bit leery of the buzz I was hearing about “50/50.” After all, I thought, didn’t Seth Rogen just do a best-friend-cancer movie with Adam Sandler a few years back? And that movie gets worse every time I watch it.
Because of these things, I went into “50/50” pretty skeptical. And the opening of the film started off as a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s no way around it… this movie is about cancer. It opens up with Gordon-Levitt’s character of Adam getting diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The subsequent scenes feature him struggling with how to break the news to family and friends, and he soon has to face the disease.
“50/50” starts off pretty standard for a movie like this. It’s an indie darling, set in Seattle with the main characters working at either an NPR or an art gallery. It treads some pretty predictable paths. After all, you know from the moment you see her that his girlfriend isn’t going to be supportive of his ordeal. You know that Seth Rogen’s character of Kyle is going to use this opportunity to get laid and smoke medical marijuana. You know his mother’s going to be overbearing and pushy.
But something beautiful happens in the second act of this film… it takes all these predictable, standard and expected elements and breathes new life into them. There’s no real surprises here because, frankly, there are no real surprises about cancer. It’s a big, scary deal, and you have limited options.
And as much as I didn’t like Adam on the onset, it was a necessary evil to allow him to grow and realize that he had been taking so much for granted. As you must do with any real person who suffers from a potentially terminal illness, you have to be forgiving.
The audience goes through the stages of grief along with Adam. It’s confusing. It’s not simple. It’s ugly. That’s how cancer goes. This movie doesn’t pull its punches, and it extends a bridge of empathy to the audience. No matter how cynical you are, it’s not easy to shrug off this struggle.
But amid this heavy storyline that is tear-inducing multiple times throughout the film, there’s a brilliant balance of levity. Seth Rogen is funny once again in this movie, playing his stock character but playing it exceedingly well. It’s been said many times that laughter is the best medicine (though I tend to be partial to antibiotics myself), and this film delivers a solid prescription for it.
By the time the film was wrapping up to its conclusion, I was entirely invested in the characters, with all negative thoughts about the first act far from my mind. The film is expertly cast and portrayed by many actors in their stock roles. Even Anna Kendrick as Adam’s wet-behind-the-ears therapist simply plays a clinical version of her “Up in the Air” character. But I forgive this kind of type-casting if the end-result is as solid as it is here.
A good cancer movie should make you both laugh and cry, and “50/50” did exactly that for me.