Friday, October 7, 2011

50/50 (2011)

Written by Will Reiser

Directed by Jonathan Levine

Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA.  October 2, 2011  7:00PM

I will admit that when I first heard about "50/50", a comical take on the story of a young man who discovers that he has cancer, I thought the idea would be end up being lame, unfunny, and wildly inappropriate and once I saw that Seth Rogan was involved, I knew for sure that this would be a must-avoid film.

I have seen the film and I was very wrong and I guess I owe Mr. Rogan an apology as "50/50" is actually a honest, heartfelt and hilarious look how a guy might cope with fighting a deadly disease.

Joesph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a healthy, twenty-five year old, radio programing producer who goes to the doctor because of chronic back pain. He never expected the diagnosis that his doctor insensitively delivers to him; Adam has a rare form of cancer on his spine and he needs to go through chemotherapy to reduce the tumor before they try to surgically remove it.

Not surprisingly, Adam is in shock but remains relatively calm and optimistic as he begins to tell his family and friends about his situation. Kyle (Rogan), Adam's best friend, is concerned but soon sees Adam's illness as a way to score chicks and seems to feel that if Adam gets laid, it will help him forget about his troubles.

Adam and his artist girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) have been having some trouble in their relationship and actually offers her the opportunity to leave but she insists on staying to take care of him. However, Rachael doesn't want to really get involved with the messy side of his illness as she won't even go inside of the hospital while Adam goes through chemo.

Adam has put off telling his mother, Diane (Anjelica Huston) as she has been caring for his father who has been suffering from Alzheimer's but the main reason is because she is a worrier of epic proportions and can be a bit overbearing, which annoys Adam greatly.

To help him deal with his health crisis, Adam has been assigned to a psychologist, Dr. Katherine McCay (Anna Kendrick) although she actually younger than he is, with Adam being only her third patient. She tries to help him by following the text books she read in college but soon realizes that not all patients will behave the same as Adam is resistant to opening up about his feelings. Romantic sparks fly between them but Katherine insists on trying to remain professional although she keeps divulging personal information about herself to him.

Later, when Adam is informed that the tumor has actually grown and must have immediate surgery, he finally explodes with rage as he begins to question whether he will actually be able to beat this.

The screenplay. based on comedy writer, Will Reiser's own personal experience with cancer and also happens to a close friend of Rogan, is witty and full of good but raunchy humor which is used to soften the depressing subject matter.

Mr Gordon-Levitt is excellent, as usual, as his character tries his best to control his fear and helplessness as the people around him certainly don't make it easy. He and Mr. Rogan work well together although they aren't exactly convincing as a bromantic couple as their characters are so completely different that it's hard to imagine them being such close friends. My concerns about Seth Rogan were confirmed as he managed to throw things slightly out of whack because, at times, he seems to be performing in a completely different movie than his fellow actors but he never derails the film and adds a few very funny bits.

I can't honestly say I'm much of a fan of Ms. Kendrick but she delivers another solid performance following her Oscar-nominated turn in "Up in the Air" but I will say that I do love Ms Huston and I'm very glad to see her return to the big screen. Although she is not in the film nearly long enough but what she able to do with just her steely gaze and a cock of an eyebrow is priceless. Phillip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer (anyone old enough to remember the 1980's TV show, "Max Headroom"?) also make brief but sold appearances as two other cancer patients who introduce Adam to the wonders of marijuana..

"Terms of Endearment" has become the benchmark for a film that was successfully able to merge laughter and tears (it even gets name-checked in this) and while, "50/50" is not exactly in the same league, it is still very effective as a touching drama with plenty of belly laughs.