Sep 2011 30

50/50 is the introduction of Jonathan Levine to the main stream and it is quite the coming out party as he has crafted a fine dramedy in this cancer film.

Yes, a cancer film that is funny.  The film is a very realistic look at dealing with cancer and the relationships in your life as someone deals with this crisis.  Loosely biographical, the film follows a young man, Adam, who is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at far too young of age.  What follows is how he and his friends, family, and girl friend handle it; as well as his relationship with his cute therapist in training.  As Adam copes/struggles with his illness those around him react in a variety of ways and out of that the film finds a lot of natural and honest humor.  The film has its sad moments though, you will have to have a cold heart not to be affected, but above all the film is surprisingly upbeat for the source material.  I would never classify the film as a downer, which is a good thing for a movie trying to entertain while centered on a character possibly dying from cancer.

The film’s young cast is very good, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt taking it up a notch when necessary; especially in the end.  Levitt plays Adam and the character doesn’t allow for the most diverse performance for the majority of the runtime, as Adam mopes through life.  Levitt doesn’t miss his opportunities to shine though and knocks those big moments out of the park.  Seth Rogen plays the best friend and provides plenty of laughs as well as forming a nice bond with Levitt.  Though, I will say that the most linking moment between the two friends involves no talking and the characters aren’t even interacting at that moment.  Regardless, Rogen is likable and very funny doing what he does best; making inappropriate jokes and observations.  Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard are our female leads here and they are both great in their parts; I just wish both had a bit more complexity to them.  Kendrick plays the therapist and we can only get to know her as much as her patient relationship allows, so in that sense it makes sense, but Kendrick is so good I just wish we got more.  It is a similar situation with Howard who plays Adam’s girlfriend who slowly disappears as the taking care of Adam becomes overwhelming.  One of the film’s shortcomings is actually the lack of showing her struggle with Adam’s sickness and I don’t think she was meant to come out as abandoning as she does.  The older cast of Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer, and Anjelica Huston all are quite good as well and deliver in all of their brief moments through out the film.  Serge Houde, I think, deserves special mention for just nailing his part as well and displaying so much emotion through mostly no dialogue.

Jonathan Levine’s previous efforts include All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, which is an interesting spin on the horror formula made on a nothing budget, and The Wackness, which was a fantastic coming of age film from a few years back.  I don’t know if I enjoy 50/50 more than The Wackness but they are certainly neck and neck.  Levine is a rising talent and one to be watched as he gets all the facets of film making.  From his musical choices, to his excellent pacing, and keeping an interesting camera in a film with not a lot of visually stimulating events going on, the guy knows what he is doing.  Two of his three films, you could argue, are great and he is only going to get better.  I hope this film is a hit so he can more easily make his films as they are entertaining without sacrificing character in the slightest.  Jonathan Levine, a name to watch.

The tone of the film is just pitch perfect, able to interject unforced humor into potentially sad and terrifying situations without ever succumbing to a cheap joke to break the tension.  A lot of dramedies undercut their drama with misguided humor to pull you out of those feelings, but Levine knows when to lighten things up and when to let things just get sad, which the plot needs to allow for.  All of the characters are pretty well rounded and we feel like we get to know them, outside the couple of shortcomings mentioned above, and the film does so without ever dragging its feet.  The film is a joy to watch and for pure entertainment, and one that is revisitable, a feat considering the subject matter.

Oh yeah, the soundtrack is excellent by the way, though not quite as good as The Wackness, and Michael Giacchino turns in another great, subtle, score.  Giacchino gives us yet another twist on what he is capable of as it is fairly original compared to his other works; well done sir. (The man has been busy this year too.)

In the end, 50/50 is a film you should not miss and should be a breaking out point for Levine and Gordon-Levitt.  Levitt has been in some big movies, and is primed to be in a few more over the next year, but he should be a legit leading man.  Levine deserves to be one of the top directors in Hollywood and I continue to eagerly look forward to what he gets his hands on next.  The film is an honest look at dealing with adversity, tragedy, and death through those that you love and Levine crafted a film that makes that journey something both extremely watchable, thoroughly entertaining, and genuinely hilarious at times; quite the accomplishment.

50/50 is an A-


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