Friday, October 07, 2011

‘50/50’ – Hits the mark and beats the odds!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (‘Inception’) is the nice guy Adam Lerner in the very moving ‘50/50’.  Levitt is turning into a deeply powerful actor, presenting a performance that is touching, funny and very moving; the nuance he brings to his characters relay a strength and maturity not found in most actors of his generation. As Adam Lerner, we are treated to his finest performance to date.

Lerner is the seminal ‘nice guy’, the guy who follows all of the rules and lives his life as straight as he can; so much so that while jogging on a very empty street, he still waits for the walk light to turn green. He works for an NPR radio station in Seattle and has a budding relationship with an up and coming artist, Rachel (another fantastic performance by Bryce Dallas Howard) and a best friend, since high school, named Kyle (Seth Rogen whom I like better here than in ‘Green Hornet’ – note to Seth, stick with what you do best, buddy drama/comedies). To his horror and surprise, he learns, quite unexpectedly, that he has a rare form of cancer. The news striking him to the core, as he recants to his doctor: ‘I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I recycle!”

Written by Will Reiser, based on his own experience as a 20-something cancer survivor, ‘50/50’ blends comedy with tragedy in a very real way. Never do we feel like we are watching a Lifetime disease of the week movie; and never do we feel manipulated throughout the film. Titled because of the odds that Adam faces, Reiser never pulls punches on the horror of cancer and the impact it can have not only on the life of the patient, but the lives of those around them. Director Jonathan Levine smartly allows Levitt and Rogen to mesh; he also smartly allows the material to play out in the actors themselves. After chemotherapy, we see Adam, alone, sick and in the dark of his home, wondering why no one is calling him; we see the pained face of his mother (Anjelica Huston) as her eyes well with tears upon hearing the news; we see the reaction of Rachel, while initially supportive, coming to realize that this is more than she can bear. And in one very powerful scene, we actually live the reaction of Adam the night before what could be life ending surgery.

The focus is not entirely on Adam and his trial, it is not focused on the relationship of Adam and Rachel or that of his mother; rather, it is focused on the relationship of Adam and Kyle, lifelong friends left to deal with a life changing situation. Where Adam is quiet, unassuming and charming, Kyle is the lunk-head, but he is dedicated to Adam for the long haul. While Rogen is definitely an in your face actor, he and Levitt mesh nicely and the situation is believable. They are caught in a situation where you don’t know if you need to laugh or cry. Thankfully they do both as in when Kyle takes Adam to a bar in order to pick up girls using his bald head and cancer story as a line!

A wonderful subplot involve Adam’s therapist, Kate, played by Anna Kendrick (Twilight), a therapist in training actually, where it turns out that Adam is her third patient. The two develop a sweet relationship that begins adversarial as Adam is understandable angry but eventually turns to something very heartfelt and real. Aside from the ‘Twilight’ series, I have enjoyed Kendrick performances (I can’t really blame her for ‘Twilight’), especially that in ‘Up in the Air’ – which if you haven’t seen, she shines in it.

While ‘50/50’ is not a perfect movie, it is certainly one of the nest movies of the year and a 4 star effort!

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