Guaranteed to be the funniest film about cancer you’ll see this year (and maybe ever?), 50/50 takes what could have easily been a cloying, eat-your-vegetables movie-of-the-week and turns it into a heartfelt movie that will surely make you laugh until you cry.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in his usual pitch perfect performance as Adam (seriously, this guy is amazing), an ambitious 27-year-old Seattle Public Radio reporter working feverishly on a story about a dormant volcano in Hawaii. His co-worker and best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) is a lumbering, bear-like man child who’s on a perpetual mission to get high and get laid. Adam, who’s just given his newish girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) a drawer in his apartment, isn’t interested in following the same pursuits.
When an on-going backache sends Adam to the doctor, he’s suddenly diagnosed with a fast-growing sarcoma on his spine and his cautiously-lived life is sent into a tailspin. First, he must embark on an aggressive course of chemotherapy. Then he must find a way to tell his cheerless, suffocating mother (Anjelica Huston), who already has her hands full with Adam’s Dad (Serge Houde), an advanced Alzheimer’s patient.
In order to help Adam deal, he’s sent to a pretty, young trainee therapist named Katherine (Anna Kendrick) who’s incredibly green but eager to help him through his crises and the two form a bond that may or may not be on the verge of tiptoeing into forbidden territory.
It all sounds like the recipe for a Terms of Endearment-style cryfest. Yes, there are plenty of scenes that will make you tear up, but where 50/50 diverges from the path usually trod by other “Big C” movies is in its (sometimes dark) humour.
The film was written by Will Reiser, who met and became best friends with Rogen while they were both writing for Da Ali G Show. Reiser was diagnosed with cancer in his early twenties and after surviving decided to write the screenplay based on his own experiences both in treatment and in dealing with the various reactions of friends and family members. Because of this, the screenplay has a truthful ring that seamlessly blends both the ridiculously funny and the painful realities of living with a serious illness.
Jonathan Levine, whose previous film The Wackness was an offbeat cult favourite, is the right man for the job is perfectly balancing the film’s two equally important tones. He allows the actors the room to riff off one another is a way that, for example, makes the genuinely touching friendship between Adam and Kyle ring true. He also imbues the film with an almost 1970s sensibility that has a documentary-like feel to it and is perfect for the chilly Seattle setting (although the film was actually shot in BC).
In fact, if there were any justice in the movie world, this film should be headed into awards season as a dark horse. At the very least, its chances should be well and above 50/50.
50/50 opens today in Toronto. Check here for showtimes.
Check out my interviews about 50/50 with Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick/Bryce Dallas Howard.
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