30 November 2011

50/50- Review

I've been doing enough comparisons of new movies to slightly less new movies in recent weeks, that I hope that such comparisons are lending context to a review. Why rely on my opinion? Isn't it better to tell you what it's kind of like, thus help you decide if you're going to enjoy it, without resorting to the almost always misjudged "See this if you liked..." pieces that populate cinema listings?

Where does this relate to 50/50? Basically, I found the film's humour and pathos to land somewhere between the previous works of its two stars, and not at all like Love And Other Drugs. (500) Days of Summer's Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Knocked Up's Seth Rogen are the stars of this movie, which finds a nice balance between each of those films' separate approaches, on a much more serious topic than either- cancer. During a supposedly routine doctor's visit, Levitt's character, Adam, is diagnosed with schwannoma, but it seems that the more imminent problem is how his disease changes the way that his loved ones treat him.

If there's one thing that "See if you liked..." rollcall of inferior films is good for, it was to remind me that Seth Rogen has been in this territory before, with Funny People, a film that showed what it would be like if Adam Sandler got cancer. If you're back there, thinking of Just Go With It and laughing, that probably shows you some of the problems with Funny People, which wasn't much about cancer anyway. In that film, Rogen was there to put the bro in the film's not entirely convincing bromance, which is a role he happens to serve here too. The difference is, his Kyle is possibly a career-best turn from him.

Appreciating that he's overshadowed by bigger performances in the movie, more on which later, Rogen serves his function very well. It's not an overpowering rendition of the goofy stoner character for which we know him, and surely he must have done as much to promote marijuana in movies as Harold and Kumar combined. Kyle is the product of an extraordinarily well-judged script, acted with due restraint by a more lovable Rogen than we've seen of late. It doesn't trade on illness for laughs, as Judd Apatow comedies have done in the past, instead proving to be a far more mature and sweet rumination upon living with cancer, based on writer Will Reiser's own experience.

Many moments of Reiser's script feel so truthful that it's completely clear that they have some basis in fact. Perhaps Rogen's performance was helped along by his own experience of being the best friend, who was there for Reiser before he was given the all-clear. But there have been films that played such things as naturalistic, that either bored or repelled, so Reiser also deserves kudos for having made his experiences feel cinematic, as well as personal. If there's only one drawback to this, it's that Anjelica Huston's role as Adam's mum doesn't get as much time as other supporting characters. But then, as much as it's about Adam's relationships, it's about Adam.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance is, at times, reminiscent of his character at certain points of (500) Days Of Summer, and perhaps never more so than in a joyously numb sequence where he traverses hospital corridors under the influence of medical weed. Being a relatively healthy young man, who exercises and avoids vices like smoking or drinking, the personal injustice of Adam's condition is so great that it doesn't immediately hit him. He works through his repressed angst in a number of great scenes with his therapist, played by the radiant Anna Kendrick. Levitt and Kendrick have fantastic comic chemistry, but each are good enough actors that the impact of their dramatic scenes is twice as hard.

The delicate balance between comedy and drama feels so neat, except for how messy it wound up when I saw the movie. 50/50 moved me to tears in its latter movements, before following up with one of its cracking one-liners. With eyes streaming and sinuses blocked, I snorted with laughter, and the snotty expulsion was roughly proportionate to that one scene near the end of The Blair Witch Project. Don't you judge me! I'm just giving you fair warning for when you see it, and I completely recommend that you do.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, and hopefully you'll appreciate the unostentatious nature of 50/50. It's very easy to imagine, in this season of hype and acclaim-driven baloney, a film about how people treat you differently when you have cancer, that is treated differently because it has a "hot topic" at its centre. This is far more self-assured, and far less cloying, and it manages to be sentimental without depressing anyone, or asking for any validation. Once again, I can't overstate how big an Anna Kendrick fan I am, when she's not slumming it in Twilight, but I was just as impressed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, who make up the film's more subtle love story.

50/50 is now showing in cinemas nationwide. And is it just me, or does "unostentatious" sound ostentatious just by virtue of using that word to say "not showy"?
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If you've seen 50/50, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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