Sunday, December 4, 2011

50/50 (2011): Film Review

A film about a young man being diagnosed with cancer is somehow incredibly funny and dramatic at the same time.

Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) is a young man with an apparently good job, a house, a hot girlfriend (Dallas Howard), and a best friend (Rogen).  Then he is diagnosed with cancer of the spine.  The film deals Lerner's journey from diagnosis to the day he learns about whether or not chemotherapy will save his life.  His journey shows how the various relationships Lerner has in his life change and develop the longer Lerner lives with the cancer.  The film almost perfectly balances comedy and drama as the relationships play out on screen.

[Spoilers Ahead]

The key to the success of the film is how Adam Lerner's relationships with the important people in his life play out on screen.

Lerner has several relationships and some play out better than others over the course of the film.  The strongest of all of them is his relationship with his best friend, played by Seth Rogen.  Rogen really stepped up here (similar to his underrated performance in the otherwise uneven Funny People), and delivered a more human performance than the roles he was pigeonholed in for a while.  He keeps his trademarked comedic style but he reigns in the most extreme elements of the character he's been playing for years.  On the surface, the dynamic between Rogen and Gordon-Levitt appears similar to how Rogen looks after Adam Sandler in Funny People, but Rogen's character doesn't settle to be a loyal lap dog here.  Instead he gives Adam Lerner what he truly needs now: his best friend to treat him the same and be just as loyal as before.

Lerner's early relationship with girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) is probably the least interesting of the relationships.  Howard's character says she wants to be loyal and supportive of him (because she knows that is what she is supposed to do), but she is not truly prepared to do it.  Quickly, it is discovered that she is cheating on Lerner, and we don't see much of her for the rest of the film.  I feel like the character was never really given a fair shot.  Howard's character naturally would want to care for Lerner after the diagnosis, but the strain of caring for a boyfriend with cancer is never portrayed in the film.  Whatever her faults, clearly, she was not just supposed to be some heartless bitch, and her character deserved a more complete portrayal.

Lerner also goes through therapy after the diagnosis, and his therapist, is played by the always likable, Anna Kendrick.  In most films, the ending where these two go on a date after Lerner survives the cancer, would come across as forced, but it came across as fairly organic, all things considered.  Nothing with the character is especially brilliant, but Kendrick played it well and was a welcome addition to the movie.  Kendrick is a breath of fresh air in every film I have seen her in.

The last relationship of any real interest is the one Lerner has with his mother, played by Angelica Huston.  Most of the relationship is described by Lerner, which makes it inherently less interesting then the relationships that we get to see play out in the film.  However, what little that is shown of the relationship, pretty much tells us everything we need to know about how their relationship has gone for his life (maybe that is just because it was very similar to my relationship with mother).  Despite not being a major part of the film, the relationship leads to some nice moments towards the end as Lerner confronts the surgery that will determine whether he lives or dies.

If there is one weakness in the film, I felt like the film could have put more effort in defining the characters played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, as I felt that the film mostly just relied on the audiences pre-conceived visions of those actors' past performances.  It wasn't a huge deal, as the two actors are talented enough to sill emotionally engage us.  It was however, something that I noticed.

50/50 quickly became my favorite non-documentary film of the year.  I highly recommend that you seek this film out.

Film Rating: 8/10

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