Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Directed by Jonathan Levine.
2011. Rated R, 100 minutes.

Serge Houde
Andrew Airlie
Matt Frewer
Philip Baker Hall

Adam (Gordon-Levitt) hasn't been feeling well for weeks. Finally, he goes to the doctor and gets some very bad news. He has a cancerous tumor and has to start chemotherapy right away. Luckily for him, he has a strong support system. He thinks. His girlfriend Rachael (Howard) pledges to stand by her man. His mom (Huston) is overbearing, but cares for him deeply. She's also dealing with a husband who is a shell of his former self. Adam also has his loyal, if immature, best friend Kyle (Rogen). Eventually, Katherine (Kendrick), his very young therapist, becomes part of his network as does a few of his fellow cancer patients.

From that foundation, 50/50 mixes and matches sub-genres to create a well-crafted movie about a young man going through a crisis. It is parts rom-com, bromance, and family drama. All three phases are handled very nicely and intertwine seamlessly. Each manages to tug at our heart strings. What helps is that even though 50/50 weaves between being those different things, the tone is pretty even keel. This means that when Seth Rogen is doing his normal schtick, everything around doesn't devolve into a zany comedy. When Anjelica Huston takes us down the anguished mom road, we're not supposed to suddenly burst into tears. True, things often feel heavy, but that's the case throughout. Still, there are times when things get a bit too sappy. I understand that a movie about a very young dying of cancer is bound to be, but it can be heavy-handed. Predictably, this is more prevalent toward the end of the movie. The problem with this is what we're told might happen never feels true. The way things set up we only believe in one of the title's 50s.

All that this movie accomplishes is rooted in an outstanding performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead. He gives us an appropriately tortured soul desperately trying to handle his predicament. He conveys much even though he's only allowed one big, showy moment. The others play off of him well. Huston, in particular, shines as his mother and a fellow tortured soul. Though she says so much, we can always tell it's not all that's on her mind.

By the end, we've laughed and some of us have cried. We've come to really know Adam and have developed great empathy, not only for him, but for those in his inner-circle. It is an emotional roller-coaster but somehow manages to hold itself together. True, 50/50 is somewhat manipulative, but it's still an excellent effort.

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