Directed by: Jonathan Levine Written by: Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick
I'm baffled that a comedy/drama with a stellar critical reaction overseas starring Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Superbad, 40yr Old Virgin) and Joseph Gordon Levitt [JGL] (Brick, 500 Days of Summer, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) is whimpering its way into one cinema in Australia this week. Fortunately for me, late last year, during a jaunt to New York City, I caught a test screening of 50/50 that was being put forward for fans of two big movie sites in the U.S.
Inspired by a true story of writer Will Reiser's own experience with cancer 50/50 sees best friends Adam (JGL) and Kyle (Rogen) have their lives irrevocably changed by a cancer diagnosis that gives Adam a '50/50' chance of survival. Reiser's experience textures the film with organic dialogue and modest scope that allows you to be absorbed in the rich characters of 50/50. The context of the story is rooted in subjects and scenarios that aren't typical Hollywood comedy fodder - cancer, cheating partners and chemo-therapy. There's a great humility that comes when we realise just how fleeting, fragile and ultimately precious our existence is.
JGL since Mysterious Skin and Brick has been an actor that I'll watch in anything. He's able to pair that sweet awkwardness that you'd associate with a tragic romantic and shift gears into a really raw emotional fragility that is quite disarming. His descent into despair as the chemo meds break down his body occurs as he makes new friends sharing the trials of the wretched disease and how humour is essential to keep him/them buoyant. It's a funny and emotional - solid leading performance.
I love Seth Rogen in this film. I know that some people have had a bit of Rogen 'fatigue' after he seemingly appeared in hundreds of films in the last little while, but I'm a fan - the man's got funny bones. He's playing to his strengths as the crass, stoner foil to JGL's sweet and down trodden romantic. He's like a relief valve for the raw emotional core of the film. And I have to say that there's a revelatory moment between Adam and Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) that Kyle is a part of that literally had me convulsing with laughter.
Supporting are Bryce Dallas Howard as Rachael who reprises her role as the red-head that we hate ala The Help (intentional) and Lady in the Water (unintentional). Other than The Village, I'm more or less 'meh' on Howard; I'm yet to see her in a role where she's knocked my socks off. Anna Kendrick is playing Katherine, first time grief counsellor attempting to help Adam navigate the trials of his 50/50 chance. Kendrick is quite good support as she fumbles her way through her first assignment and compliments the heavy emotion of the piece. Finally, Angelica Huston is wonderful as a kind of Wes Anderson-esque mother. She's desperate to get into Adam's life and while her normal attempts to lovingly suffocate her son would be fun in other films; it's underpinned by the seriousness of the situation and becomes terribly moving.
50/50 is funny, sweet, moving, well acted and touching story of friendship in the midst of a life threatening disease; and I have no idea why most of you will have to wait to see it on DVD/Blu Ray.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman