Sunday, October 2, 2011

50/50 (2011)


Directed by Jonathan Levine
Written by Will Reiser
Adam Lerner – Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Kyle – Seth Rogen
Katherine McKay – Anna Kendrick
Rachel – Bryce Dallas Howard
Diane – Aneglica Huston
Richard – Serge Houde

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Adam is out for a jog as 50/50 opens with morning briskness. At a traffic light, Adam comes to a halt and waits. Just then, a girl runs past him through the light, leaving him dumbfounded. It’s easily noticeable he’s a good guy, who tries to stay in shape and obeys the rules, which actually exacerbates the deafening bang on his head landed by cancer diagnosis. His initial reaction is nothing less than anyone would have expected in the face of this sort of shit life dishes out. Blindsided by the spinal tumor, good citizen Adam feels cheated. Indeed, life is such a bitc… Tragic farce.

50/50 refuses to be a mere anecdote about a cancer patient’s excruciating journey. Nor does it beg for an audience’s manipulated sympathy. Instead of only focusing on Adam’s coping and treatment, the film highlights the changes that cancerous adversity brings into his relationships with the people he holds so dear. Kyle, Adam’s best friend, uses all his wits to feign cheer but seems to capitalize on his friend’s misfortune just to get laid; Adam’s girlfriend, Rachel, promises support but fails to deliver; and his mother, Diane, is self-centered and overly concerned to the point of annoyance.

Adam learns life lessons the extraordinarily hard way, but not all of them are as painful and bitter as the consecutive attacks of betrayal, both physical and emotional. For starters, 50/50 follows a gradual improvement from awkward to candid conversations between Adam and his young therapist, Katherine, who is, at first, as much of a beginner in therapy as Adam is in cancer but eventually provides the comfort he needs. It also captures Adam connecting with the old dog introduced to him by Rachel, and with fellow chemo patients decades his senior. And the scene where Adam and Diane sit side by side in the doctor’s office is heart-gripping, as he begins to realize his early reservations of his mother’s concerns have been misplaced.

50/50 is as honest and as devoid of cheap melodrama as it wishes to be, and remains cheerful with a dose of mockery of how people respond to the news of Adam’s cancer.  It's also worthy of note that, though Rachel appears a bit caricatured and Seth Rogen’s acting verges a bit on self-parody, the film still presents fairly developed characters, especially in Adam, Katherine, and Diane. While closeups may seem overused at times, it feels as if the camera caresses the characters in a gentle, caring manner. Ultimately, though, it’s Gordon-Levitt’s show; it’s his understated performance that brings genuine laughter and tears.


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