DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2011 - 50/50

Sunday, 18 September 2011

TIFF 2011 - 50/50

50/50 (2011) dir. Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Phillip Baker Hall


By Greg Klymkiw

I hate cancer. Who doesn't? It kills friends and family and before they're dead it tears them apart physically and mentally. The pain is, for those who've never been afflicted, unimaginable - though I often recall the worst pain I've ever suffered (in my case, kidney stones) and magnify it several thousand times. The thought of that is, frankly, sickening.

Even the process of successfully battling cancer is painful and debilitating. With all the technological and medical advancements, there is no real perfect cure. I must speak plainly on that front and assert: That's just completely fucking stupid!

Fuck you, cancer. Fuck you!

50/50 is a comedy about cancer. The incongruity of this might seem off-putting, but the fact remains that with any illness - no matter how deadly (or not), humour is - in my humble opinion - the best medicine. Furthermore, there is much to be said, on an aesthetic level, for rendering the drama of illness - especially cancer - WITH humour. 50/50 does so with utter perfection. It's the laughs, the human comedy, the on-screen knee-slappers that are the very elements which render the drama with so much poignancy and yes, pain.

This might well be one of the best comedies of the new Millennium. Time will ultimately be the true judge of this proclamation, but for now, it's sure feeling like it's going to be right up there.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) is a public radio reporter with talent, commitment and a bright future. When he is diagnosed with cancer - one in which his chances of living are the 50/50 of the title - his life quickly unravels. His beautiful, but self-absorbed girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) is completely unable and unwilling to assist with the debilitating effects of the aggressive treatment needed - in spite of her insistence that she is more than up to it. She is, in fact, the biggest problem facing his mental health and well being. This involves having an affair behind his back - with, I might add, a major fucking loser.

Now before you get the impression this is a total downer, allow me to say two words:


One of the best young actors in the business, Rogen plays Adam's mega-pot-ingesting ('natch) best buddy Kyle. He offers friendship, company, support, endless laughs (for Adam, but by extension, the audience) and dope (a most convenient painkiller for cancer victims anyway). A slimmed-down Rogen has not meant any less hilarity. His goofy charm and one-liners continue to offer-up belly-laughs of such intensity that the resulting effect upon audiences (as they were with me) might well be severe abdominal cramps.

Bring on the cramps, baby! Seth, you rock my world!

There's also a terrific performance from the almost criminally cute and mouth-wateringly delightful Anna Kendrick as Katie, Adam's hospital social worker. Needless to say, romance brews with these two. Anjelica Huston as Adam's loving, smothering Mom is funny and moving as is the great character actor Phillip Baker Hall as one of Adam's fellow cancer-sufferers.

One of the great things about Will Reiser's semi-autobiographical and superbly structured screenplay is that it doesn't only deliver the requisite laughs and tears, but it never feels like it's hitting the kind of false, overwrought notes so many contemporary comedies are saddled with. The humour is natural and comes with ease from both character and situation. We get all the clinical detail of Adam's treatment and while it always seems rooted in reality, it doesn't get in the way of the picture's humanity, but adds to it.

Humanity, especially in a movie about cancer, is clearly a necessity. However, the movie never feels overtly dour and/or tear-jerking and I loved the way it even exposes flaws and foibles in Adam's character. For example, his "vengeance" upon the philandering girlfriend is genuinely mean-spirited. Yes, it feels somewhat justifiable, but at the same time, the character's treatment of her (no matter what SHE has done to him) exposes more than a hint that he's not some flawless, doomed, Camille-type, but has it in him to be a major prick. Yes, even cancer victims can be pricks. Welcome to the world, folks!

This is all achieved in good measure due to Jonathan (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) Levine's exquisite direction. It's not show-off-ish in any way, shape or form, but covers the excellent written material with the assured hand of an old pro. That said, Levine's only in his thirties and this is his third feature film. One can only wonder what the kid's going to generate when he actually IS "old".

The bottom line on this picture is thus: If you let the cancer theme scare you away from rushing out to seeing it - don't. 50/50 is a great picture - infused with laughs, love and hope.

These are good things!

Note to Seth Rogen: You look great, bud, but please put back a tiny bit o' girth. Those love handles were sexy. Besides, it's not healthy to be so thin. Next time you're in Toronto, remind Sarah Polley to have me recommend where you can get some great popcorn-chicken-in-a-sausage-sack kishka. This will work wonders. Trust me.

50/50 received its official unveiling at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2011) and will be theatrically released by e-one Entertainment.

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