Director: Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Wackness)
Producers: Ben Karlin, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Phillip Baker Hall, Anjelica Huston
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 99 min.
Watching two close friends go through the cancer battle over the last couple of years (one of them losing), I wondered how well a comedic (yet heart-warming) view of the entire ordeal was going to sit with me. And as we get older, it’s very unfortunately becoming an all too-close-for-comfort experience for many more of us. All the more reason for a project like 50/50 to fail miserably with cries of foul from audiences and critics alike. But with a screenwriter who understands the pains of the issue first hand and an incredibly talented cast, I’m happy to report the film is practically flawless and fires on all cylinders from the get-go.
Perhaps you’ve heard by now, as the movie has been causing a bit of controversy since its announcement many months ago, the film is the story of a young man (Gordon-Levitt) diagnosed with a rare kind of back cancer. On the internet, he discovers this particular form of cancer has about a 50% mortality rate. The movie mostly puts aside the medical aspects of dealing with cancer and focuses squarely on the relationships a guy has with friends and family. These things are often more difficult than dealing with the illness itself. But mostly, they are a life saver.
Joseph Gordon-Levittt finally lands a meaty role worthy of his clear talent. The performance will at the very least create immeasurable amounts of buzz on the blogosphere, but could (and already is) generate Oscar talk as well. It’s an incredibly honest performance capable of bringing about tears, laughs, joy, sympathy, anger and frustration from the audience. I know because I experienced them all. The kicker is how effortless it appears. JG-L has finally come into his own and unless studio execs are stupid (insert witty whip here), we’re going to be seeing JG-L carrying a lot more films on his shoulders. And after seeing 50/50, I can assure you that’s a good thing.
Of course an actor doesn’t usually do it on his own and here is no exception. The supporting cast excels at keeping the traumatic journey entertaining and lively. Seth Rogen is more or less just Seth Rogen once again but he seems to have polished his schtick into something a little less ridiculous and become someone believable. There is still laugh-a-minute antics to be had virtually every moment he’s on screen (seriously, the dude is hilarious) but it somehow feels more nuanced here and the relationship and chemistry between him and Levitt’s character is flawless and immediate. It’s a friendship that takes buddy comedy and infuses it with dramatic realism.
Of course there’s a love interest aspect to the film that by all rights should be the most obvious, corniest bunch of Hollywood studio hogwash (I labelled it as such the moment it was introduced), but as the film wears on it’s refreshingly surprising to find how well this aspect of the film is handled and once again not riddled with lame cliche or typicalities.
Veteran actors pop up later in the film that just adds to the joy; even if the situation is not. Anjelica Huston pierces her role (per usual) and if you don’t have a smile plastered across your mug the moment Phillip Baker Hall shows up, I don’t want to know you.
There are small bothersome flaws with the film, mostly in the beginning. A doctor sequence is utter ludicrous and for a while the early goings on are a bit hipster for my tastes. But once things are rolling, the film absolutely won me over and I was… enchanted. Adding a sub-plot involving Gordon-Levitt’s father as a man suffering from the latter stages of Alzheimer’s appears a little bit ham-fisted at first glance, but it keeps the relationship focus on the mother and once again, by the end you’ll see that the thread is completely rewarded.
Watch for 50/50 to be hitting theaters in about two weeks. The film is certainly aimed at the guy side of things but that isn’t to say it’s a “dude” movie. It focuses on brotherhood and relationships and while being extremely heartfelt is always keeping a stiff upper lip and knows when comedy should be injected. If there’s a more earned (and earnest) screenplay in theaters in 2011, I’ve not seen it.