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2011-11-11 02:13
What it's about:

Adam (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 20-something radio producer, is diagnosed with a rare type of cancer and is forced to face his mortality head-on. His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) helps Adam soften the blows of his illness with his irreverent humour and unwavering support, though Adam's girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) seems less sure of her place in Adam's new cancer-stricken life.

What we thought:

Cancer, it turns out, can be funny. You need look no further than some recent hit TV shows like The Big C and Breaking Bad which both feature cancer-stricken protagonists who take drastic, and often humourous, steps to adjust to their new situation.

50/50 is loosely based on the real-life experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser who battled cancer as a young man. The movie walks a fine but intriguing line between finding the funny in facing death and, well, facing death.

The easy, frivolous tone of the movie is deceptively graceful and poignant, making full use of its magnificent cast to colour in between the lines of these rather stock standard character portraits and find something very close to magic.

Leading the charge is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a radio producer with an old soul and a girlfriend who you just know won't be sticking around when the going gets tough for him. Thankfully Adam has his best friend and co-worker Ben (Seth Rogen) to support him through the initial shock of his diagnosis and all the challenges to come.

This being a Seth Rogen role, one which he also played in real life as Will Reiser's friend throughout his cancer battle, it is a riot of bad taste and misguided advice on how Adam should best deal with his illness - namely to use sympathy as a way to score chicks, with varied and hilarious results.

Adam's doctor recommends he see a therapist to guide him through the unpredictable emotional and mental heft of undergoing chemotherapy, losing his hair, his girlfriend, his lust for life. Only he is saddled with newbie shrink Katie (the wonderfully understated Anna Kendrick), a medical student who finds that all she's learned and read about in books doesn't really apply to her interactions with Adam, as he slips deeper and deeper into depression.

And even as the mood gets ever more dire, 50/50 continues to wear its heart on its sleeve, striving to make that connection with its audience all the more authentic and affecting. At times it can play as if it's trying too hard, as when Adam and Kyle have too much fun sticking it to the villainous ex Rachel, and stoner Kyle rattles off yet another dirty joke. Sometimes the long, empty silences reach for gravitas when the beautiful performances from Gordon-Levitt (in surely his best work to date) and Anjelica Houston (as Adam's highly strung mother) do very, very nicely.

At first Rogen's role as the irreverent side-kick would seem typical and dependable, though there's a strength to his relationship with Adam that goes beyond friendship into a brotherhood that feels real and vital to Adam's chances of survival.

Far from being a heart-wrenching or realistic take on a condition that far too many will be able to relate to in some way, 50/50 instead focuses on the relationships that make life worth fighting for. These astute observations belie the movie's frequent detours into silliness and the two don't always make comfortable bedfellows.

But then, just as it starts to feel as though director Jonathan Levine has played his final card, he gets the very best from his cast, Gordon-Levitt in particular, who will steal your heart and punch you in the gut.

It may often be crass, and less-than-sensitive about its serious subject, but 50/50 has the best chances of making a worthwhile impact on its audience out of any other comedy released this year. Prepare to be surprised and inspired.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a heartbreaker playing a young man who is forced to rethink his life when he discovers he has a rare form of cancer.
Read more on:    seth rogen  |  joseph gordon-levitt  |  review  |  movies

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