By Gary Murray
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard
Written by Will Reiser
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Running time 99 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
There are some subjects that are strictly taboo for comedy. One of those is cancer. A disease that affects not just the individual but the extended family, cancer is just one of those things that don’t seem to have any comedy elements. But in the 21st century, the only rule for comedy is that there are no rules. The dreaded ‘Big C’ becomes a very heartfelt romp in the new Jonathan Levine film 50/50.
The story is of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young man who works for the local NPR station. His doctor gives him an examination and some very bad news—he has cancer. The young man tells both his best buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen) and his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). Kyle is a horn-dog who looks for any and every angle to copulating and Rachael is a flippant artist.
As Adam goes through chemotherapy, his perspectives change. He finds common ground with some of his fellow patients and a deeper friendship with Kyle, who has secured much weed for the nausea. He also finds that both his slightly estranged mother (a brilliant Anjelica Huston) and girlfriend Rachael are not exactly the people he thought them to be. Adam is also assigned a therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick), a grad student who has the book smarts but not of the real world experience.
The film follows Adam from basic medical procedures to the inevitable operation. Along the way, we see some of the more absurd aspects of both the disease and the people who react to it. Along the road to recovery, Adam gets both high as a kite and down and dirty with sympatric young ladies.
Seth Rogen gives one of his funniest performances as Kyle. Though his character has some rough edges in a basal id, he still finds some sincere moments to show real, sincere friendship. He is as heartwarming as he is crass.
Bryce Dallas Howard is becoming one of the strongest new actresses to come out of Hollywood. Even though she is Hollywood royalty (her dad is Ron Howard), the young performer has been building a solid career in smaller roles. She has been doing both drama and comedy, delivering memorable parts in high level flicks. Here she is the woman in over her head, trying to show support while being totally freaked by the finality of what may await Adam. Her reactions are much truer than one would expect which makes them all that much more brilliant.
I have been a strong advocate for Anna Kendrick since Rocket Science. The recent Oscar nominee is given the weakest of the three female roles but still manages to find both some comedy and pathos in the delivery.
This film is a showcase for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the actor does not disappoint. This little role should vault him into the A-list of actors. He shows the absurdity of the situation with a sly smile and shrug. His Adam is such a non-confrontational individual that we never have to see those morose bits of overacting that these kind of films usually product. His downplay is what makes it work.
The script is by Will Reiser and is based on his personal battle with cancer. From the opening frame, it feels honest and true. Director Jonathan Levine doesn’t’ pull any punches in 50/50, laying out all that one has to deal with in trying to fight a major disease.
While some may be put off by the subject of 50/50, the film never panders down a maudlin path. It is a refreshing bit of film making that shows promise in the fact that not all of Hollywood wants to remake the films of their childhood. There are some fresh voices in La-La Land and 50/50 is the kind of movie that promises hope.