Sunday, October 2, 2011

50/50 makes cancer a laughing matter

     This cancer-comedy beats the odds and effortlessly intertwines the morbid aspects of being diagnosed with cancer all while poking fun at it at the same time.

     Inspired by a true story, 50/50 tells the story of a young twenty-something discovering he has cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) is Adam, a radio journalist, who recycles, doesn't smoke and doesn't drive because automobile accidents are the fifth leading cause of death (ironically, cancer is the second). After discovering, he has a rare form of spine cancer with only a 50 percent chance of survival rate, Adam continues trying to lead a normal life as best he can. His girlfriend Rachael, played by the stunning Bryce Dallas Howard (Eclipse) agrees to stay in the relationship and take care of him. His best-friend Kyle, Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), is shocked, but eases the tension by being the foul-mouth, comic-relief of the film. And after telling his mother, the oh-so talented Anjelica Huston, of his newly discovered tumor, ignores her calls and attempts to form a close relationship, urging her he is going to be okay.

     However, Adam soon discovers the grim realities of living with cancer, when he begins his chemotherapy sessions. The pain is intolerable, his nights are restless and it's hard to focus on anything, however he continues denying his situation is not anything other than fine. It's clear he's in denial, but his attitude towards his disease is soon challenged when he goes to see a therapist, played by the quirky, yet adorable Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air). The fact that his therapist is younger than him and not even out of school yet, does not help her case towards trying to help Adam accept the graveness of his illness (but boy, does she try). It's awkward at first, but seeing Adam open up to her and us seeing how smitten Kendrick is that she is helping him get there shows how well the two actors play off each other, but also makes it hard to watch when Adam refuses to open up too much. It's not hard to predict a break-down is well on its way.

     The film evenly balances the heavy issues associated with a possible terminal illness with the lighter side. In what is perhaps one of film's most memorable scenes, Adam--after much urging--takes a macaroon laced with marijuana from one of his chemo-buddies and walks out the hospital, while having a few laughs at what most would not consider amusing things to laugh at. Seth Rogen's character is the Yang to Adam's Yin and both actors balance each other very well. Kyle's witty and profane banter never ceases when he's on screen and adds much needed humor. Despite Kyle's remarks (and they are pretty funny), the film is constantly reminding us of Adam's impending fate throughout the film. As funny as his situation can be, when the situation gets dark there is little to find amusing.

     Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) marks only his third film with a pleasant atmosphere. He is able to tell the story of a cancer-patient without it being too somber that it overwhelms you with grief. He keeps it evenly paced and light-hearted, but never lets us forget the seriousness of what is going on. Will Reiser contributed (in more ways than one) by writing and producing the film. His humorous script is never dull and paces itself quite well. As crazy as the situations Adam finds himself can get, the film also has a genuine realism to it that I found more pronounced in the therapy sessions with Kendrick.

     Without giving too much away, the film is a clever balance of non-stop laughs intertwined with truly heartbreaking scenes. The shining moments in the film rest entirely on this amazing group of actors and seeing each one of them deal with Adam's cancer and how it affects them individually, as well. Gordon-Levitt excels in this role, as he does all his others, and makes us sympathetic towards his character's illness and well-being from the beginning and even well after the film has ended.

Rating: A-


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