Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Movie review: '50/50' delivers a double dose

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, left, and Seth Rogen in a scene from Summit Entertainment's "50/50" opening in theaters Sept. 30.

When it comes to movies about cancer there's a 50/50 chance, it will be depressing or not funny. Don't bet on that being the case with "50/50."

It is neither depressing nor tasteless in its attempt to make fun of an impossible situation. Instead, it’s a comical, heartwarming and original movie about friendship, love and survival.

Opening in theaters Friday, the Jonathan Levine-directed film was written by Will Reiser, who draws on his personal battle with a rare form of cancer to present a film that takes audiences on a journey that is both enlightening and entertaining. 

Adam Lernera (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young man living a pretty cool life as a radio broadcaster and the live-in boyfriend of a talented and sexy artist, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). That is until a dispassionate doctor delivers the “by the way, the sore back you have is due to a rare and possibly fatal form of cancer” speech. Medical schools looking to teach students the importance of empathy and bedside manner may want to use this film for instructional purposes. 

Anna Kendrick and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50
As Adam's world starts to unravel, he finds himself dealing with the well-meaning but totally outrageous attempts by friends and family to make it all better. These people include his overbearing but loving mother (Anjelica Huston), what turns out to be his shallow and selfish girlfriend, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), a rookie therapist whose first assignment is Adam, and his best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), who uses Adam's condition to lure girls into sympathy dates.

Rogen plays the humor card as skillfully, as he's done in previous comedies ("Knocked Up" and "Pineapple Express"). Only in this comedy audiences see the other side of the card, in scenes that not only tug at your heart, but leave you feeling a little more love for the wiseguy friend.

Call it good writing or good acting.

Both are at play here.

Friends Rogen and Reiser were working together with screenwriter and producer Evan Goldberg on a British comedy series, when the unthinkable happened to Reiser.

Seth Rogen as the wiseguy best friend.

"We were obviously shocked and saddened," said Rogen, who along with Goldberg and Ben Karlin produced "50/50." "But in a way, it was a huge relief to find out that there was a reason he looked so bad. We thought he was just living hard. Will told us he would probably live, which was good news, and we began a long process that we were all pretty ill-equipped to deal with." 

Rogen and Goldberg also encouraged Reiser to write about his experience.

"When anything remotely interesting happens, my first instinct is to try and think of a movie based on it," Rogen said. "And it seemed to me that I'd never seen a movie about a young dude who has to deal with a potentially fatal disease. I thought it would be really interesting and it could be really funny. Will is so funny and weird and neurotic. He might be the worst guy that could ever get cancer."

Gordon-Levitt does a marvelous job at portraying that quirkiness. However, Reiser said, "It's important to point out that '50/50' is not an autobiography. It is inspired by my experience and the experiences of the people around me."

And when the journey is over, you'll have laughed and cried. But instead of feeling whipped, you'll feel energized and even a little braver having watched Adam beat the odds.

“50/50” is rated R for Rogen’s language but it’s a story for friends, siblings, parents, grandparents and anyone else who could find themselves facing the unthinkable. 4 stars!

So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter.~ Gordon W. Allport

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