Pros: Great cast, well told story, emotionally touching
Cons: None to speak of
I don’t think I’m going too far to say that I love pretty much everything that Joseph Gordon-Levitt puts out these days. I was drawn in by his performance in the modern day film noir Brick in 2005, then was blown away by his performance in 2009’s underrated 500 Days of Summer. For people who still considered him the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, he was fantastic last year in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. So when I heard he was making a comedy/drama about a guy finding out he has cancer, I knew it was going to be something I had to see. Hence, I ran to the theater today to see 50/50.
The film centers on Gordon-Levitt’s character Adam Lerner, a 27 year old guy working at a public access radio station who finds out that the back pain he has recently been experiencing is actually a rare form of spinal cancer. Lerner, who is initially numb to the news, first tells his artist girlfriend Rachael (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), who says she will stick with him even though he says he understands if she wants out of the relationship. Taking the news harder is Adam’s best friend Kyle (played by Seth Rogen) and mother Diane (played by Anjelica Huston), who already has to cope with a husband who has Alzheimer’s.
As Adam begins the process of going through chemotherapy, he becomes friends with a couple of fellow cancer patients who are more supportive than the girlfriend who doesn’t remember to pick him up from his appointments. He also starts seeing a support therapist named Katie (played by Anna Kendrick), who lets it slip that she is still in training and he is only her third patient. The rest of the movie unfold as Adam interacts with each character as he begins to go through the stages of his illness, as well as how they react (or don’t) to him.
I found the story itself to be incredibly heartfelt, and there is a scene towards the end where Adam is talking to his father (who doesn’t generally remember he is his son) and tells him he loves him, even if this won’t make sense to him, that brought tears to my eyes in the theatre. So it wasn’t surprising for me to find out that the screenplay was written by Will Reiser, a friend of Seth Rogan’s who actually was diagnosed with spinal cancer and dealt with these issues. Essentially, this is his story, which is why I think it feels as genuine as it does. That doesn’t stop it from being very funny at times either, but don’t be surprised when they drop the hammer of emotion on you and you start crying in the middle of a (not so) packed movie theater.
The performances of the film are generally pretty good all-around, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt really coming on strong towards the end of the film. Still, I think Seth Rogen most surprised me here, as he manages to pull off a balance between emotional concern and his usual form of pot-smoking/drunken humor that seems the key to his mass appeal. He actually manages to get more endearing as the film goes on, as does Huston, who you come to sympathize with and her overprotective ways. With solid work by Kendrick and Howard, it is really a stellar cast.
Overall, I think 50/50 is must-see fare for anyone and everyone (ok, maybe not small children, as there is quite a bit of language, but you get the point). I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some buzz for the film when the Golden Globes comes around, though I don’t think the indie production has the juice needed to make a splash at the Academy Awards. Still, it is funny, it is emotional…it has something for everyone. Check it out if you have a chance, and you won’t be disappointed. 4 out of 4 stars.