50/50 (review)

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt Seth Rogen 50/50

Everything about 50/50 sounds like a joke out of The Player. It’s the disease-of-the-week buddy bromance. It’s funny, but with cancer. Fortunately, it all works as an honest, hilarious, laugh-till-you-cry look at how very much it sucks to get very sick as a young person. Or at any age, really, but Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Inception) is only in his 20s and has barely begun to live when he is diagnosed with a rare spinal tumor. (The film’s title? It refers to his odds of beating it.) Debuting screenwriter Will Reiser has crafted a smart, bittersweet portrait of facing one’s mortality way too soon, the senselessness with which bad luck strikes — “But I recycle,” Adam notes, bewildered that he of all people has been singled out for such random unfairness — and the many ways of coping Adam and those who love him scrounge up as they deal with months of radiation, chemo, other unpleasant treatments, and the prospect that none of it will work anyway. Director Jonathan Levine doesn’t just avoid the overwrought: he’s powerfully generous to the point at which we even feel a twinge of sympathy for Adam’s girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard: The Help), who simply doesn’t care enough for Adam to sacrifice her own life to his care but doesn’t know how to leave him at such a terrible moment, either. Seth Rogen (Kung Fu Panda 2) is fantastic as Adam’s crude, horny friend for whom amping up his adolescent attitude is just his way of muddling through; Anna Kendrick (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1) is wonderful as the med-student therapist who embodies all the awkwardness of everyone who doesn’t know how to talk to Adam about his cancer, to the point where he ends up often comforting them. The characters are all uniquely vivid and unforgettable — including Anjelica Huston (The Big Year) as Adam’s clingy mom and Philip Baker Hall (Fired Up!) and Matt Frewer (Watchmen) as his chemo buddies — but it wouldn’t work as well as it does if Gordon-Levitt weren’t so graceful and laid-back passionate. Don’t miss this one.

viewed during the 55th BFI London Film Festival

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