Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TIFF Review: 50/50

Written by Will Reiser
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, 
Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Huston

Adam: I can’t remember being so calm in a long time.
Katie: Would you describe it as numbness?
Adam: No, I would describe it as fine.

Up and coming director, Jonathan Levine’s latest film, 50/50, is being billed as a cancer comedy, only I cried about five times so I’m not sure the descriptor really fits. 50/50 is writer, Will Reiser’s first hand account of what it was like to get cancer in his 20’s. Clearly, as he is still here to tell the tale, he lives through the ordeal, but knowing this does not take away from the personal journey he shares with us. And fortunately for all involved, that journey is being taken on screen by the always impressive, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who easily makes 50/50 a sure bet.

Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, whom we first meet jogging down the streets of Seattle at dawn. Instantly, while we watch him wait at a red light to cross an intersection despite any trace of traffic approaching, we know that Adam is cautious and self-aware. Even when he is told that he has cancer, he protests on the basis that he doesn’t smoke or drink and that he recycles. Adam follows the rules and yet is being inexplicably punished. Adam is not particularly original, as far as characters go, but his emotional path leaves the character so exposed and vulnerable that we are deeply endeared to him. Commendably, Reiser does not make us pity him but instead it feels like a rare and  honest account of his experience. For Gordon-Levitt to be able to open himself up to this kind of candidness only further proves that he is one of the most relatable young actors working today.

I felt I could know Adam, that he could be one of my friends. That one of my friends could go through this is foreign to me and fortunately, not something I’ve ever had to go through. As much as 50/50 is about Adam’s plight, the other half of it is about how the people around him learn to support him. From his best friend (Seth Rogen, playing a role based on himself, as he is also Reiser’s best friend in real life) to his mother (Anjelica Huston, making the most of her little screen time) to love interests both potential (Anna Kendrick) and exiting (Bryce Dallas Howard), everyone in his life stumbles through supporting him as if they were blindly walking into walls. Everyone is trying though, reminding us just how important intention really is, and 50/50 surely has the best of them.

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