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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.55%
Worth A Look68.18%
Average: 27.27%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"Odds are good that you'll like it, provided your soul doesn't have cancer."
4 stars

"50/50" is a movie that's almost daring you not to like it. Featuring a cancer-stricken protagonist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who is difficult to dislike anyway) and a syrupy sweet screenplay loaded with rom-com sentiment and a bouncy spirit (despite the heavy subject matter), it almost stacks the deck against a viewer. Even though it asks you to sometimes treat cancer as a laughing matter, it's so good-natured and charming with its cast that you can't help but go along with it.

This sounds like one of those films that would attempt to skate by and pull some easily-manipulated heartstrings, but "50/50" rather effortlessly and nimbly circles around the suddenly ill Adam (Gordon-Levitt) and those in his life who surround him: his neurotic, overbearing mother (Angelica Huston), his kind but perhaps ill-fitting girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), and his buddy (Seth Rogen). The fallout from his diagnosis leads him to a young, grad-school psychiatrist (Anna Kendrick), plus he forms a sort of fraternal bond with his chemotherapy mates (Matt Frewer and Phillip Baker Hall) as he attempts to beat the odds and survive the disease.

A film like this could easily degenerate into maudlin, TV-movie-of-the-week fare because so many of us have heard those "stages of grief" hat get recited with textbook authority; that, of course, is just hollow bullshit, and coping with a life shattering event like this can't follow a script. As the screenplay was inspired by true events in writer Will Reiser's life, the authenticity perhaps doesn't come as a surprise; you can almost feel the script poking at the rote, tired platitudes with Kendrick's character, who realizes that her university training has only equipped her with clinical soundbytes that provide little real comfort.

Instead, we're presented with a genuinely touching take where those various phases of grief continue to swirl as life goes on; after all, Adam still has to deal with his finicky mother, who is precisely realized by Huston, who balances the expected anxiousness with affecting heartbreak. She's already saddled with a husband stricken by Alzheimer's, and now she has a sick son who also doesn't return her calls.

And of course there's Adam's love life; these are difficult waters to navigate anyway, but cancer makes them all the more treacherous. While that's obviously the biggest gut-punch Adam receives, he's still treated to a few more sucker punches along the way, which almost seems unfair. Gordon-Levitt crafts one of the more empathetic screen characters in recent memory, though he's aided by a script that continually reinforces what a good guy he is; in fact, when we're introduced to him, he won't even go so far as to jaywalk, so we wonder how karma could be such an arbitrary bitch.

Gordon-Levitt does handle much of the heavy lifting, however, as he's able to especially channel Adam's subdued resentment towards his fate. No one could blame anyone in this situation for being angry at being dealt such a terrible hand, but the actor earns the emotional moments, one of which is just a climactic, heart-wrenching moment. Wordless, but full of articulate rage, it's the film's apex that expresses all of the pent up fear and frustration before finally giving way to that calm resignation as the film begins to wind down to its conclusion.

Helping everyone involved (including the audience) to weather the storm is Seth Rogen, who is admittedly portraying his typical vulgar oaf. He's got this routine down pat, though, and he once again manages to be the lovable goof despite being sort of a sleazebag. I mean, he's basically exploiting his friend's cancer to help score chicks for himself, which the script wisely doesn't side-step. Still, Rogen is remarkably talented in somehow subverting that "bro"persona; he might be cinema's great "bro with a heart of gold" since he brings a disheveled, yet cherubic quality to so many roles like this. He especially has terrific chemistry with Gordon-Levitt, as these two are believable lifelong friends from their first moments together.

If you aren't sure about Rogen's character, fret not--the film goes out of its way to be a bit reassuring; however, it's far from being mawkish or even predictable. Though you might have an idea of where all of this is headed, consider this: "50/50"had me on the edge of my seat in suspense during a couple of pivotal scenes. This speaks not only to the depth of my emotional investment in the characters, but also to Levine's perceptiveness of those tense, agonizing moments in doctor's offices and waiting rooms. Maybe you're asking the movie to lie to you, to pat you on the back and tell you everything is going to be okay, and that's perfectly valid, I think. Sometimes, I think cinema as panacea can be taken as a small comfort, especially for those who have endured potentially terminal illnesses either directly or indirectly.

A genuine, measured take on cancer, "50/50"avoids overwrought sentimentality but still manages to stay nice and sweet, with a hint of devastation mixed in along the way. Like another great cancer dramedy, "Fubar," it shows that it actually takes more than a pair to tackle the most difficult scenarios in our life, as a sustained dose of family, friends, and laughter sometimes really are the best medicine.

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originally posted: 11/08/11 13:27:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/07/14 David Hollingsworth works as a comedy and a drama 5 stars
10/03/11 Kim Kelly JGL was great, surprisingly sweet & funny, not as sad as you'd think 4 stars
10/01/11 Jenna Solis Finally A Movie About Cancer that doesn't Make it so depressing instead making the most 4 stars
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  30-Sep-2011 (R)
  DVD: 24-Jan-2012


  DVD: 24-Jan-2012

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