Friday, July 13, 2012

Cancer. With Laughs.

Film: 50/50
Director: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde, Matt Frewer, Philip Baker Hall.
Running time: 100 min. 

"That doesn't make any sense, though. I mean, I don't smoke, I don't drink...I recycle." - Adam's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) response to being told that he has a tumour in his spine. We go through life believing that nothing bad will ever happen to us if we do right by the world, because we don't deserve it. Unfortunately, a fact of life is that we'll all be linked to someone who has had to battle cancer, whether they beat it or succumb to it. Maybe it'll be us. Cancer doesn't care if you recycle, or if you're the best person on Earth. For Adam, he is only 27 when he's told that he has the illness. And while he can't make sense of it, his situation allows him to make sense of himself and the people around him. 50/50, Jonathan Levine's follow-up to the brilliant stoner comedy The Wackness, isn't My Sister's Keeper, though. It isn't out to turn the waterworks on or soak any tissues. Instead, it does the inevitable and brings some laughs to an otherwise sad story. Most of all, it puts a new spin on a topic that is used in films to make you feel guilty for being alive. There's no guilt to be felt with this one.


50/50 is based on the real-life experience of Will Reiser, who was beat cancer a few years back and decided to translate his journey to the screen. Coincidentally, Seth Rogen was there to help him through those tough times. In the film he takes the role of Kyle, who tries to make Adam's experience somewhat easier to deal with and warn him away from a cheating girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), along with providing a bit of medicinal marijuana. Kyle is the comic heart of the movie, as he isn't the one bursting into tears every time he looks at his best friend. He's the one who is trying to restore a bit of normalcy to Adam's life that has now been thrown out of kilter. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he doesn't. What Kyle does is give a very realistic portrayal of coping. Kyle shows that there is only so much that other people can do for those in need. Nobody knows exactly what other people are thinking, so they don't know exactly what to say and when to say it. They'll never be able to imagine what it is like to be in the other person's shoes. Even if they can't cure you, if you get the right friend, they'll make your situation easier. Adam may not be responsive to every single one of Kyle's gestures of friendship, but their relationship is a strong one. On the surface, we get a few laughs out of the pair. However, deep down, they are probably what Rick was alluding to in Casablanca - a beautiful friendship, indeed.


Kyle isn't the only one who shows a wonderful portrayal of coping with the effects of someone else's illness. Everyone around Adam has very different reactions to his situation, which really bring out the best and worst in people. His girlfriend, Rachael, tries her best to stand by him, but she's unsure of just how she can do that, which leads her to seek solace in the arms of some "Jesus-looking dude". His mother (Anjelica Huston), who already has a husband that has Alzheimer's, has an extremely strong reaction to it, instantly offering to move in with Adam. For a very long time, Adam resists the help of his mother, only to come to the realisation that a mother's love is better than anything else on this Earth. Also affected is Katherine (Anna Kendrick), his therapist. Adam expects to have a therapist who has been in the business of consoling people like him for decades, but Katherine has only had two patients before him, and doesn't exactly know how she should deal with Adam. She brings the romantic strain to the table, but for once, it doesn't feel contrived at all. Adam and Katherine's relationship is awkward, as she's not entirely sure of how to handle the situation, but unlike Rachael, she'll stick by him. Finally, Adam is joined by his chemotherapy buddies Mitch (Matt Frewer) and Alan (Philip Baker Hall), who don't sugar coat the situation but do offer plenty of cookies filled with weed. Through all of these people, we see just how one person can affect several others, and discover what they're really like. It's situations like these that magnify the people around you, and what they're really like deep down. What these people don't do, though, is become caricatures with heavy-handed intentions to show exaggerated melodrama.


What about Adam himself, though? It was clear to see that Reiser didn't try to glamourise Adam in any way. He isn't a fluid character. He doesn't just decide that he's okay with his situation, or he's feeling down because of it. Sometimes he feels good, other times he feels at war with the world. He's confused because there isn't any how-to guide for having cancer. He can only but take each day as it comes, and hope for the best. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance is stellar, especially considering that he picked up the role only two days before principal photography began (replacing James McAvoy). He nails every emotion, bringing vulnerability, anger, sadness, but also admirable acceptance to Adam's situation. When he breaks down, quite a way into the film, we not only see how tired Adam is, but how Gordon-Levitt manages to put all of the little fragments of his experience into that catharsis. He brings the true beating heart to the film, making us pray that he'll be okay, but also smile and laugh with him along the way.

A comedy about cancer? It can happen. Just don't expect to come out dry-eyed because you've been laughing so hard. 50/50 blends humour with sadness so well that it can't be defined to one genre. Unless there was a genre called 'life'.

What I got:

20 comments:

  1. Great review. I knew you'd like this movie. My girlfriend and I were going to watch it last night but decided not to. Will try and see it this weekend or next week as it looks quite good, and I really like the idea of a film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Philip Baker Hall. Plus I haven't seen Anjelica Huston in anything for a while - the only film that springs to mind is Buffalo 66, and she was fantastic in that movie; one of my favourite comedies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you like it when you see it (soon, I hope). The cast is excellent!

      Delete
  2. Genre 'life'... you summed it up very well. It's indeed a very good film, but it made me sad more than it made me laugh. The people's relationships are portrayed beautifully and minutely. JGL gave a fantastic performance; it's hard to believe that he had so few time to prepare for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It made me sad more than I laughed, too. Yet, I don't view the film in the same league as, I don't know, Blue Valentine or something like that. JGL does give a great performance!

      Delete
  3. Having lost a family member to cancer a few years back, I'll admit I cried a bit towards the end. I liked this a little more than you, but I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. (Also, where was JGL's Oscar nomination for this?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish JGL got an Oscar nomination for this. And Will Reiser for Best Original Screenplay. Alas, both of those categories were stuffed up.

      Delete
  4. I cried to this film a bit as well considering that I lost my grandmother to stomach cancer back in August of last year. Yet, it was also funny as it's a film I'm hoping to show my mother when it comes on TV.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it is ten times sadder when you've been affected by cancer.

      Delete
  5. My favorite film from last year because it made me laugh, made me feel for everybody in this flick, and made me cry. Yes, it got me that much. Still wish it got more love from the Academy, actually, any love would have been fine but instead, it was just forgotten about. Damn Academy! Good review Stevee.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't believe how little recognition it got! It should have had so much more love than it got!

      Delete
  6. I watched this at the London Film Festival last year and I loved it! The mix of funny and sad moments was a breath of fresh air and I nearly teared up at the end! Fantastic movie with so many laugh out loud scenes! Great review Stevee!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a breath of fresh air, wasn't it?

      Delete
  7. Though I didn't like the movie as much as you did, I can't deny that Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave a raw and touching performance.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This sounds like a movie I'd really enjoy although I suspect it will be painful to watch. I think it's hard to make a movie like this without it becoming too sentimental or melodramatic. It sounds like this film was quite an accomplishment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is quite hard to watch, but it isn't to be missed. It is an accomplishment!

      Delete
  9. I pretty much agreed with everything you said but I have to say I found it more sad than funny. I don't usually get emotional watching films but I got a little teary towards the end. JGL was great!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How could you not get teary eyed towards the end?

      Delete
  10. This sounds like a great movie, and an interesting concept considering how big a deal cancer is in the world today. I'd be keen to watch this at some point....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really think you would like it. It's pretty awesome!

      Delete

You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails