Sunday, January 29, 2012

REVIEW: 50/50 (2011)

Cancer is not a light subject and not one that many mainstream movies get made about. When they do, it’s usually within the frame of a very heavy drama, with little room for anything else, and that is where 50/50 comes in to demolish those expectations. This is a very wholesome film that answers the question I was wondering ever since I saw the trailer: “How can you inject comedy into a movie about a guy getting cancer?” Well, 50/50 did that with a splendid turn out.

Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick

Joseph Gordon Levitt is a great young actor and this film shows why – he’s able to fit himself into a role and cloak himself in it to where you don’t really think of him as an actor. In his best movies like Mysterious Skin, he fully becomes the character. He doesn’t try too hard to showboat or win any Oscars, he just puts out consistently excellent performances, no bells and whistles, no gimmicks. He’s awesome. Seth Rogen, famous for God knows how many trashy comedy movies over the last few years, pretty much does what you would expect of him here – silly, boisterous and loud – but the character is well written and nuanced to where he’s actually fairly compelling by the end. Anna Kendrick, of Up in the Air fame, puts on a great performance too as Levitt’s therapist. She is soft and feminine and kind of awkward, but she has a good spirit and a spunky sort of beat to her personality.

The movie kicks into gear relatively quickly with Levitt getting the big news that he has cancer. The film likes to straddle a line between comedy and drama, with a very serious scene here and there and others more speckled with jokes and wry witticisms. Levitt’s comedic timing comes from his stoic, deadpan delivery – what else would you expect from a guy who has cancer? He’s matched pretty brilliantly by Rogen’s brazenness.

Overall, 50/50 is a fairly simple and straightforward tale. It’s the story of a young man who gets cancer and has to face the painful road ahead to recovery. The strongest moments in the film are hard to pick out because it’s a whole movie of strong moments. The strength of the whole is its characters, and the way they interact with one another. Levitt’s interactions with Rogen are a big highlight of the movie, as they’re funny and also insightful into both characters’ finer points. Levitt talks to his mother and girlfriend a fair few times in the film – one of those relationships tanks and the other one ends up flourishing and stronger than ever, and the juxtaposition shows how versatile the actors and directors are. He talks to his therapist (Kendrick) quite often too. I have to admit Kendrick’s storyline does feel a little rushed in comparison to some of the others, but it’s a minor complaint at best.

We learn about all the characters through conversation and as the film unfolds, we see a broad, spirited picture of human tragedy. The human condition is never limited strictly to the person directly inflicted by some terrible ailment; it also affects those around him or her too, and part of what this movie tells us is that it’s not necessarily morally reprehensible to show that you’re just as grief-stricken as the person who is sick to begin with. People always say that nothing anyone is feeling about a loved one’s sickness or ailment can compare with what the person is feeling him- or herself, and that is true to some extent, but everyone is affected a little bit and has to deal with it just the same. There is no hierarchy of grieving and distress. Some people deal with the pain and suffering of their loved ones in good ways, and others do not – such is the way of life and human error.

The reasons why 50/50 is a great film are plentiful – the acting, the directing, the pacing – but overall the film is more than the sum of its parts. It is a tale of laughing and crying, of the ways we interact with those around us – for we are never just individual souls cut off from the world, we are all interconnected. 50/50 is the story of those connections and how they come together in the face of possible death. This is an honest movie about people doing what they can.

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