Wednesday, October 19, 2011

693 - 50/50 review

We all die too young, though some arrive at their end too much sooner than others. “50/50” takes the story of a man in his twenties facing such mortality and turns it into a comedy, albeit one with a cloud hanging over. There’s not as much cheap sentimentality here as one might expect, nor are the laughs designed to be uproarious or outrageous. What unfolds feels largely real and understated, even when saddled with one film convention that’s a requirement of every studio picture.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, the man with the titular odds. A health nut and teetotaler, he’s surprised when at 27 years of age he’s diagnosed with spinal cancer and given a coin toss’ chance to live beyond the immediate future. He doesn’t delve into full-bore panic or sadness, though he can be forgiven for the general moodiness that ensues.

Seth Rogen plays Kyle, Adam’s best friend, and to great effect; the screenplay was written by his friend Will Reiser, who himself was stricken with cancer. The film’s based on their own experiences with the disease, and thus the moments between Adam and Kyle are unfailingly the film’s best.

Besides his best friend, Adam finds varying degrees of support. Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), his girlfriend, puts on a cheerful front at first, but quickly proves that she’s not up to the task of caring for a dying man. Howard, daughter of Ron, is a good actress whose high profile jobs tend to be in abysmal franchise fare such as “Spider-Man 3” and “Terminator: Salvation,” does well at humanizing Rachael, making her somewhat sympathetic despite the character’s inherent unlikeability. Angelica Huston shows up as Adam’s mother, a woman already familiar with handling the diseases of others, whose presence presents a challenge to the protagonist: who does one spend the time they have left with?

The TV ads worked hard to push “50/50” as a routine sex comedy with a disease drama in the background, but the humor’s more measured than that. Sure, there are plenty of sex jokes, but they’re remarks and actions that could actually occur.

Anna Kendrick plays Katherine, Adam’s therapist. Kendrick plays the character as ineffectual, overwhelmed and outmatched by the requirements of a difficult job. It’s thus hard to swallow when Adam and her foment a romance, as if a. There wasn’t enough room for an extra character and b. This therapist was willing to risk her career to inappropriately bond with a patient facing the worst kind of stress.

Still, there’s a lot of heart and sincerity in this film. Certainly, there are films that present a much more unrelenting and pessimistic view of potentially fatal illness. “50/50” doesn’t spend much time on the physical pain, and its most intense moments of mental anguish likely won’t move many to tears. Perhaps in some ways it’s too optimistic. But it explores the potential ending of a life with appropriate seriousness and humor, whereas so many films use disease for crass manipulation, or trivialize it altogether. Here, we have something funny, but not too funny, and sad, but not enough to ruin our day, and uplifting, but not feel-good.

3.5 out of 5

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