“50/50” Movie Review

      I compare “50/50” to last year’s “The Kids Are All Right”.  A comedy and drama that covers a subject most don’t want to be open about, yet the subject matter in both films warrants real conversation.  Like “Kids”, I expect 50/50 to come up in the Oscar conversation early next year.  Director Jonathan Levine and screen writer Will Reiser have drawn from Reiser’s own experiences as a cancer survivor and the result is a funny, yet touching story of what it is like to be diagnosed with this horrible disease in your 20’s.  The fact Seth Rogan stars as well is no accident.  Rogan and Reiser met a while back on the set of the Ali-G Show, just as Reiser was going through what we see on film.

     Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) stars as 27 year old Adam, who learns he has a rare form of spinal cancer.  You may remember his girlfriend when you see her.  Rachael is played by Bryce Dallas Howard who is just coming off her turn as a racist southern belle in “The Help.”  In a lot of ways, Howard is playing a similar character here.  Let’s just say she is not someone Adam can depend on.  The aforementioned Seth Rogan plays Kyle who is Adam’s long time friend.  Rounding out the cast is Anna Kendrick as Adam’s therapist, Katherine and Anjelica Huston as Adam’s mother.  The cast is, in a word, stellar top to bottom.  You may think the characters are a bit cliched and at times conveniently placed into scenes, but hey, this is based on a true account so who are we to question?

     Rogen is as good as I’ve seen him in a long time.  I probably have to go back to “The 40 Year Old Virgin” to think of a film where he was this effective and he is actually playing a very similar character.  He’s there to advise Adam, but he also clearly protects him and looks out for him.  He seems to be, and late in the film proves to be, a true friend.  Anna Kendrick’s Katherine starts out as a quirky rookie therapist, but later matures into something more.  She comes off almost immediately as the perfect match for Adam and provides a tremendous amount of support when he really needs it.

     The thing I liked most about 50/50 is the development of the characters and how they really make you care about them.  There is no doubt about an hour in that the audience is interested in what will happen to Adam, but you also really care about all of the other characters as well.  If life were a movie, I think 50/50 is a great example of how it would be.  The characters are loose and never afraid to say something funny, even when they are surrounded by tragedy.  Reiser’s script is full of all sorts of clever set ups and I can’t help but to think the interactions between Adam and Kyle are to the letter accurate from his very own experiences.

     As a director, Jonathan Levine knows when to keep things light, but he also knows when to take things serious.  During the third act, you won’t see something more emotional this year than when Adam goes into a life threatening surgery.  All of the principals are present at the time and each has a true stake in Adam’s life, which we know because it was established so well during the first two-thirds of the film.  Basically what I’m saying here is 50/50 has a perfect and cohesive narrative.  Scenes don’t take place one at a time, rather they blend together with harmony. 

     Without a doubt, everyone involved in 50/50 deserves awards recognition.  While no one actor truly stands out, something along the lines of the Best Ensemble award at the SAG Awards would be very appropriate.  A screenwriting nod for Reiser at the least should be a lock, but time will tell.  A lot of films with these types of expectations will be coming out over the last couple months of 2011, but I have to figure 50/50 will likely remain near the top of the heap and deservedly so.  GRADE: A-