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10 October 2011 @ 02:45 pm
Film Review: 50/50  
A comedy about living with cancer. No really. It might have felt more tasteless if I hadn't known that this was basically the screenwriter's own story.

Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27 year old Seattle-ite who lives quite comfortably within the rules of convention. He's a very nice, conscientious young man who looks both ways before crossing the street, is polite to the elderly, and doesn't even drive a car due to his somewhat paranoid knowledge that vehicular accidents are within the top five common ways to die. He works at a radio station as an editor with his best friend since high school, Kyle (Seth Rogan) and has a girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) with whom he is starting the tendrils of a perhaps lasting relationship. So it shocks Adam quite a bit when he goes into the doctor's due to some back pain and finds out he has spinal cancer that gives him a 50/50 odds at surviving.

The bulk of the movie is Adam slowly going through the phases of shock, denial, lots of denial, false acceptance and finally anger as he tries to cope with what may be a death sentence. Most of the comedy comes from Kyle more or less using Adam's disease to try and score dates (it's surprisingly not as awful as one might think) and Adam's deadpanned acceptance of the insanity his diagnosis unleashes on those around him while he remains supposedly calm in the face of potential death.

The movie largely works because despite not really having that much to work with, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives us an incredibly sympathetic character. Not just because of his diagnosis but the fact that he's more or less left to deal with everyone else's reaction to it rather than handle his own, which is more or less the story of his life. His mother (played by a wonderful Angelica Houston) is already taking care of Adam's father who has advanced Alzheimer's and barely is able to keep it together when Adam breaks the news. It's so clear from their awkward phone conversations that she loves Adam dearly but can only express her love during this situation with thinly veiled panic which in turn has Adam more or less ignoring her to get away from the smothering. Their somewhat short but poignant scene together before Adam goes in for surgery is the only time you get a glimpse of the kind of assured parenting that Adam clearly needs despite his earlier protests.

My one major beef with this movie was the usage of the female characters (other than Adam's mom). We have on one end Adam's girlfriend who is so one dimensionally played as selfish and needy that it's not at all surprising their relationship barely lasts once Adam gets his diagnosis. And on the other side we have Adam's 24 year old therapist (Anna Kendrick) who is that mix of compassionate and flustered and who undoubtedly will become Adam's emotional salvation. As a budding therapist, watching Kendrick's character was like having someone poke me in the eye repeatedly with a pencil. I can't even begin to get into all the ways in which the film warps the way even basic therapy works. It wouldn't even be so insulting except the relationship between Adam and his doctor seemed sort of a random tag on, as if suddenly the studios told the screenwriter he had to have romance in there somewhere.

I knew before going to see the movie that originally the role of Adam was given to James McAvoy (last seen as Professor Charles Xavier) who dropped out due to personal reasons. I did wonder how different this movie might have been had McAvoy stuck on. I really, really can't imagine what sort of buddy chemistry he'd be able to manage with Seth Rogan since as actors they seem so incredibly different. When I brought this up to the friend I saw the movie with, she seemed kind of aghast and said that the film would probably have been less funny and certainly less warm (she describes Gordon-Levitt's smile as sunbeams so....). As a fan of both actors, I can't really be sad that McAvoy dropped out since Gordon-Levitt was very, very good. This actually marks the 2nd time Gordon-Levitt has stepped in for a departed actor, much to the movie's benefit. James Franco had originally won the role of Arthur in Inception before having to leave due to scheduling conflicts. Now that's a casting change I have no qualms cheering about since I can't even begin to see Franco as Arthur.

Overall, I wouldn't say 50/50 necessarily succeeds at being a very funny comedy involving cancer. But it is an entertaining movie that manages to side step certain conventions when it comes to movies about characters dealing with cancer.
aelfgyfu_mead: Carson Beckettaelfgyfu_mead on October 11th, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
watching Kendrick's character was like having someone poke me in the eye repeatedly with a pencil
Oh, heavens! I kind of know how this feels: when a show I watched revealed that one character had had an affair with her student, I was furious, but at least we were definitely not supposed to like the supervisor in this case. When some fans got angry at the student for a) having the affair and b) never telling her husband, who later became his supervisor and his friend, I had to stop reading what certain people said. It's an abuse of trust to have an affair with one's student, and one does not blame the student.

Mostly when tv or movies depict professors, they get it wrong, but more roll-my-eyes wrong than horribly wrong. With depictions of counselors and therapists, writers tend to get things so badly wrong even I notice, without any particular training.

That's not a movie I have any desire to see; your review slaked what little curiosity I had for it, so thanks.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on October 11th, 2011 12:23 am (UTC)
With depictions of counselors and therapists, writers tend to get things so badly wrong even I notice, without any particular training.

The friend I saw this film with is not in the field and she kept leaning over during the scenes with Kendrick and saying, "Are you dying on the inside?" BECAUSE YES.

I had drinks with my cousin last week and when I told him I worked at a training clinic while I was working on my doctorate, he said, "Oh, like Anna Kendrick in 50/50." Now that I've seen the movie, I feel the need to call him and expressly say, "No, not like her AT ALL."