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Wednesday, November 23, 2011



"Bald. No... landing strip." 

Laughter is the best medicine. Unless you have a rare and serious form of spinal cancer and your chances of survival could be either heads or tails, in which case, chemo is probably your best bet. Still, though, if you don't manage to have a sense of humor about it, you're in for a very tough ride. Cancer, by all means, is no joke. My grandmother was recently taken by breast cancer, and I've had others I know and love struggle with it in the past. Thankfully 50/50 knows all the right ways to make the ride as smooth as possible, managing to snuggle up right next to the viewer and tell them "it's all right to laugh. he is, you should, too."

By all definitions, it's an impressive film. 

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works for public radio. In Seattle, no less. He's as unassuming as a likable protagonist can be - charming demeanor, easy going, beautiful girlfriend by the name of Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard). His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), ... not so unassuming. He's out to get girls, get drunk, and bring the noise. It's fascinating how the friendship works, but it does. What doesn't seem to work, once you get past the surface, is Adam's relationship with Rachel. It's one of those relationships that works merely because they are polite to each other. There's no sex life to speak of, and both seem to keep their distance. The film is based on the true events of the script's writer Will Reiser. Reiser was diagnosed with cancer; Rogen's friendship with him and their relationship during the diagnosis/treatment process is the basis for the story.

This could certainly fall into the category of "quirky indie comedy with loads of heart", much in the same way that Little Miss Sunshine and Juno do. But there's an air of honesty floating around the screenplay - probably because it actually happened to the writer - that sets it apart from those films. Despite the fact that Little Miss Sunshine and Juno are good films, expertly written, it's the mere fact that 50/50 is a true story that sets it apart. To me, there's indie, and then there's independent. This, dear readers, qualifies independent.

I think the most important thing you could say about a movie like this is that the characters follow their laws of economy. Everyone has something important to do. Even that one nurse whom I wasn't sure would have a line, even though she hovered around Adam in the OR for a minute. Every character is put to excellent use, and not one felt out of place. Adam forms a relationship truly special with his therapist, played expertly by Anna Kendrick, proving that her Oscar nomination was not a fluke. Their bond is tangible, which is important in 'illness dramas'. It's the perfect foil to every other relationship in the film. Adam's relationship with his girlfriend, and his mother (Angelica Huston) and his Alzheimer's stricken father. It seems that it's the people he meets after his illness who speak to him the most. Notice the strength of the friendship he forms with his other chemo-friends.

Of course, I'd be remiss to not mention Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance in more detail than "he plays Adam." The little kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun has grown into one of the best actors of his generation. He has more tonal control and more range in his soft-spoken demeanor than most people had back in the golden age of cinema back in the 70's. If he doesn't land an Oscar nomination for this (and I rarely rally like this), then something is being said about the Oscars. Seriously.