Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
The first question one should ask when considering what movie to watch is whether or not Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in it. From Mysterious Skin to The Lookout to (500) Days of Summer, his subdued and quiet brilliance have made for some of the most exciting and fresh cinema in recent years. Of course, not every one of them is going to be cinematic gold, i.e. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Stop-Loss, Havoc … wait, those are also all Channing Tatum films … I’ll blame him.
In any case, JGL’s latest project, 50/50, sees him step into the shoes of Adam, a young man living a decent life in Seattle; working at a local radio station, dating a beautiful artist (Bryce Dallas Howard), and palling around with his best bud (Seth Rogen). Of course, there would be no film without any conflict and so Adam finds out he’s got a rare form of cancer with a (you guessed it) 50/50 survival rate.
The success of the production comes from the chemistry of the actors. Gordon-Levitt is once again in top form and delivers one of the most sincere performances of the year, making Adam feel completely relatable and thereby making the struggles he must endure that much more heartbreaking. Rogen isn’t treading new ground here, but that distinctive laugh and lack of verbal filter are the perfect counter-balance to JGL’s brooding and dry wit. Anna Kendrick plays the student-therapist working on her Ph.D and crossing doctor/patient boundaries with JGL. Her almost unbearable sweetness and beauty also lend the film an emotional touchstone, as one can’t help but root for the pair to make things happen while wondering if the film has the stones to kill off its main character (obviously a plot element I won’t be revealing).
The supporting cast is equally up to the task. While Anjelica Huston ably portrays JGL’s mother and Bryce Dallas Howard did a nice job of imbuing an easily hated character with touches of sympathy, the two actors that really round out Adam’s cancer experience are Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer. Playing fellow cancer patients, they put the story in perspective – shifting the tone that one extra bit to make it all feel very real. Their characters provide Adam with a social framework that really does understand the toll this disease places on people, something his friends and family cannot possibly give him.
One thing people should know going into it is that while there is an abundance of comedic moments and Rogen’s presence almost always means comic relief, one should also bring some Kleenex with them. We’re dealing with a young man stricken with cancer after all, it’s not all sex jokes and sunshine. And to that end, what struck me so much about the film is that without fully realizing it, I was completely invested and bawling my eyes out. Seeing as many movies as I do, there are generally only one or two a year (if that) which actually elicit tears from this jaded critic’s eyes; and this is one of those films.
But don’t let the seriousness of the movie deter you. 50/50 does a remarkable job of balancing the happy and the sad, with director Jonathan Levine, the cast, a Seattle-influenced soundtrack, and a good score from Michael Giacchino, all coming together in one complete vision. As such, it’s one of the few must-see films of 2011 so far and hopefully audiences will respond in kind (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
50/50 hits theaters on September 30, 2011 and is ratedR for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.
More on 50/50:
—Trailer, Info and cast list