October 2, 2011

Movie Review: 50/50

A comedy about cancer? Like a lot of people I felt a little leery about a comedy centered on cancer and co-starring Seth Rogen. Seriously, why shouldn't I be worried? Cancer is not a laughing matter, and if you have, have had, or have lost someone to the disease, I am sure you will agree. At the same time, I also believe that a positive outlook is necessary to get by, and comedy can do a lot to help keep the mood light and the spirit happy, even in the face of something as bad as this. Well, even as the cast shaped up for this, I still had my doubts. Then I saw the trailer and I thought it looked funny, I certainly liked the cast, and I was hoping for the best. Now I have seen it and I am ecstatic to report that 50/50 is an incredible movie. Do not worry, it does not treat the disease as a joke.

Still, it is a movie that I approached warily. There is always the fear that the cancer will be the joke, and while I don't really believe that any topic is off limits, there are always times and places for certain things. You know, a decorum to be respected with regards to some things. With Seth Rogen involved, who is to know where his line may be?

Well, 50/50 plays it straight. It is a movie that treats cancer with all due seriousness, while also remembering that this is a comedy. It straddles that line of comedy and drama, it has a great sense of seriousness, an injection of true emotion, and high level of believability. Seriously, this movie made me laugh, it made my tear up, and it all felt natural, real, and this all made for a really good film.

Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Adam, and Seth Rogen is his best friend Kyle. The two of them work for public radio in Seattle, but that really has nothing to do with our story. These are the friends that are always friends. However, a big speed bump is thrown into there life when Adam's back pain turns out to be a malignant tumor, a rare form of cancer that has a survival ratio of 50/50.

Adam's support group consists of Kyle, his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), and his mother (Anjelica Huston), who is already caring for Adam's father who is stricken with Alzheimer's. In an apparent show of compassion, the rather cold and clinical doctor who breaks the news refers the young man to a psychologist, rather a student working on becoming one (Anna Kendrick).

As I sit here and try to find a way to write about the plot of the film, I recognize that it is probably best left to be discovered when you watch the film. It is not that I am unable to, it is just that this is a movie that is authentic, moving, and downright touching that I would not want to rob the experience from anyone. I am not suggesting that you have the same reaction as me, but if you don't,well, you must be dead inside.

Joseph Gordon Levitt shows once again just good of an actor he has become. I daresay he has become one of my favorite performers, with a track record that includes Mysterious Skin, Brick, The Lookout, (500) Days of Summer, Inception and now this, he has been on quite a roll. His performance as Adam is one of emotional reality, someone who can say so much even when saying so little. Love him or hate him, Seth Rogen is that lunk head best friend that is very familiar to those who have seen any of his other comedies. However, there is something else with this character that is shown later in the film that just adds to the emotional truth of the movie as a whole.

The rest of the supporting cast all contribute to the film, comedy, emotions, a little bit of everything. Anjelica Huston is wonderful as Adam's mother, seemingly overbearing and pushy, but there is a reason for it. Bryce Dallas Howard as the girlfriend who doesn't really fit and reacts in a fashion befitting my first reaction to her. Then there is Anna Kendrick, who may be involved in the most contrived pieces of the story, but they still work for me in the bigger context of the movie. It almost feels as if she is the essence of two characters boiled down to one in an effort of conciseness. I am all right with that, she plays the role well.

The screenplay was written by Will Reiser, a friend of Seth Rogen's and the source of the story inspiration. Reiser had cancer and wrote a book on his experience. This screenplay is an extension of that experience, not so much an autobiographical account, but as a reaction to it. Perhaps it was a cathartic experience, I do not know. Whatever the truth is, he has written a film that avoids mawkishness, touches on genuine feeling and speaks to us as a whole on how we deal with things like this.

I loved 50/50. I am not sure it is perfect, but it is so much better than I think anyone could have expected. It dives right into dangerous waters and comes out with a smile on its face. This is one of the better movies I have seen this year and one of the few that got to me, emotionally, that didn't make me feel manipulated. Virtually everything done by the characters rings true and the end result is a movie that is true. It has real friends being true to each other and doing what hey need to in the face of something terrible. Could this be the definitive cancer movie?

Highly Recommended.

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