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A few years back there was a coming-of-age movie set in 1990ís New York City called The Wackness.  Its director, Jonathan Levine gave us a heartfelt take on the joys and yearnings of first love amidst a changing cultural landscape.  Levine showed a definite flair for telling the sticky tale with a freshness that was sweet, yet never saccharine. Based on the true story of screenwriter Will Reiserís discovery of spinal cancer at the age of twenty-four, Levine brings that same emotional intelligence laced with wry humour to his latest film, 50/50.

Adam is a nice boy with a nice job as a radio broadcast producer; he also has a pretty girlfriend and a nice house.  He goes jogging every day and keeps himself fit.  Despite the worst vices of his boisterous best friend, Kyle, Adamís life is happily unremarkable. Itís only that twinge in his back thatís giving him a little trouble.  A doctor without a shred of bedside manner clinically reports that the twinge is actually a malignant tumor and Adam must immediately start chemotherapy to have any hope of fighting the invader in his system.  Adamís online research shows that the survival rate for his type of cancer is 50/50.  Adamís normal life has just ended and a world of hospital visits, therapy and dependency on others as his body grows weaker begins.  The effects of his cancer are further reaching than just the constant terrible sickness and loss of hair the young man must endure: Itís also put his relationships with his girlfriend, best friend and parents into a whole new dynamic.  The flitty sweetheart struggles with committing herself to Adamís care when she wasnít ready to commit in any way when he was healthy.  Kyle manages to turn his palís sickness into a dating lure, playing on girlsí sympathy for his stricken friend.  Adam tries in vain to minimise his overprotective motherís reaction to the shocking news, but like a tigress minding her only cub, she wonít be thwarted by his self-imposed distance.  A source of both sanity and aggravation are his therapy appointments with a young doctoral student who counts Adam as her third patient - ever.  Attempting to get Adam to drop his brave face as both his health and relationships unravel is a prospect that neither party was as prepared for as they thought.

It takes a very deft hand to keep this story of cancer survival from the expected mawkishness of such a subject, or from becoming an unrealistic yukfest as comedian Seth Rogenís presence as the rowdy best friend might entail.  Besides its sharp, saccharine-free script and Jonathan Levineís aforementioned smart direction, 50/50ís big coup is in its wonderful cast, led by the continually amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam.  Levitt handily captures the gamut of emotions his stricken character undergoes in a short period of time; from the shock of the initial diagnosis, the helplessness as the treatments fail to cure, the betrayal as those closest to him disappoint, to the rage and despair as his options run out.  Gordon-Levitt bases his portrayal in the fact that this is just a regular young man, like any guy on the street; a likeable cat who this unlikely horror happens to.  He never loses Adamís decency or dignity even in his most humbling transitions and makes the progressions through his illness completely believable.  Gordon-Levitt is so fascinating to watch, he manages to hold his own against the bluster of Seth Rogenís Kyle, a character like many of Rogenís prior social miscreant roles and at times itís worrying whether the crazy pal antics will distract from the film, veering it dangerously close to becoming a patented Seth Rogen comedy.  Anna Kendrickís wide-eyed, quirky girl act serves well as the inexperienced, idealistic therapist who becomes one of Adamís few anchors.  Angelica Huston comes in like a whirlwind in an Eva Gabor wig as Adamís concerned mother, who is forced to the sidelines by a son who is intent on keeping her from being involved.  Hustonís portrayal of the suffering of a woman who stands to lose her child while dealing with an Alzheimerís-stricken husband is mighty and hilarious, yet shows the right restraint.

With its excellent cast, unexpectedly funny script and genuine, intelligent approach, 50/50 is a real winner.  While not necessary designed to be a feel good movie about cancer, it is an exceptional telling of one manís story, mixed with a perfect balance of sympathy and laughs.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Sept. 30th, 2011

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Summit Entertainment)

 

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