50/50

Life-changing moments are as unique as the people to whom they happen.  They can range from getting the perfect job to getting fired from the perfect job.  They can also be more personal, like getting married or having a child.  Still others can be frightening, like being involved in a car crash or some other type of catastrophe.  Then, there are the moments that can only be experienced by one person.  Discovering you have a potentially fatal disease must be the most personal, singular life-changing moment of them all.  While you have your doctor and specialists who treat you and (I hope) your friends and family who support you, no one can truly understand just how it feels to face death except the person facing it.  And each person faces it with their own unique perspective shaped by their life experience.  I’m sure there have been many books and doctoral theses written about the subject and now there’s a movie called “50/50” that’s the focus of this week’s review.  I find 50/50 to be an appropriate title in more ways than one.
 
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works at a public radio station and lives with his artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) in a cozy rental house.  Adam’s best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) also works at the radio station and is constantly on the prowl for women to date and sleep with.  Persistent back pain sends Adam to the doctor.  After an MRI, Adam is informed he has a rare form of cancer in his spine and needs to begin chemotherapy immediately.  Adam’s reaction to the news leads his doctor to suggest meeting with a counselor at the hospital.  When he arrives at his first session, the 27-year old Adam is shocked to discover his therapist is 24-year old Katherine McKay (Anna Kendrick) and he is her third patient…ever.  Adam is doubtful Katherine will be of any help but agrees to see her weekly.  Adam reluctantly informs his mother Diane (Angelica Huston) of his diagnosis over dinner.  Diane is caring for her husband Richard (Serge Houde) who has Alzheimer’s disease and Adam knows she will obsess about everything involving his treatment.  As Adam begins treatment, he notices Rachael becoming more distant but assumes that’s the stress caused by an impending gallery showing of her paintings.  Meanwhile, Kyle mentions Adam’s illness to women in an effort to get himself dates.  Adam meets fellow cancer patients Mitch and Alan (Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall) at chemo and the trio form a bond based on their illness and pot-laced macaroons.  Doing research on his disease Adam learns his chances are 50/50 but as treatments continue and relationships end, begin and change, he begins to wonder if he’ll make it.
 
I was looking forward to this film as it has several people in it that I enjoy and takes a different approach to a very serious subject.  While “50/50” works about half the time it also doesn’t work about the same amount.
 
First, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a wonderful performance as the cancer-stricken Adam.  His boyish face has a quality that makes you want to take care of him.  Another aspect of his face came out to me as I watched the film.  If he has a neutral expression, Gordon-Levitt almost looks like he’s in pain.  This was probably amplified by the pale makeup used during the part of the film during his chemotherapy, but as I look back on his work, it is something that’s always been there since he became an adult.  There are worthy moments in his performance as well as times that will bring a tear to your eye and a lump in your throat.
 
Anna Kendrick is also very good.  Her therapist-in-training is both earnest and awkward, trying to remain calm in the face of Adam’s passive/aggressive reaction to his disease but tripping over her own inexperience and doubt.  Her nervous stammering with sentences starting and stopping on a dime and in mid-thought amplifies her level of naiveté and indirectly leads Adam to like and trust her.  Kendrick could also be considered for a supporting Oscar with her performance.
 
While there are some good performances from the rest of the cast, they are let down by a predictable script that offers no real character development.  As the story winds its way down a very familiar path, everyone behaves according to type and everyone is to some degree annoying.  Kyle is an obnoxious, slovenly womanizer who exploits Adam’s illness to pick up women.  Diane, who is introduced as vivacious, becomes clingy and intrusive upon hearing Adam’s diagnosis.  And Rachael is, pardon my French, a self-centered, manipulative bitch.  Even Adam, for whom we feel the most sympathy, is a milquetoast doormat who would rather go with the flow than rock the boat.  The script provides a bit of redemption for everyone, except Rachael, but it’s again a predictable resolution that doesn’t seem to have a foundation in the reality of the movie.
 
“50/50” is rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.  There is one brief scene of a sex act containing almost no nudity.  Sex acts are talked about at length in some scenes, mostly for comic effect.  Pot is consumed in cookies and by smoking in several scenes.  It appears to be used more for relaxation than to fight the nausea caused by chemotherapy.  Foul language is common through the film and is most prevalent during any scene with Seth Rogen.
 
“50/50” is based on the real life cancer battle fought by its screenwriter Will Reiser and the moral support provided by his best friend Seth Rogen.  While I don’t know for sure, I doubt much reality made it into the script, as the film is predictable with mostly caricatures for people.  While it is sweet at its core, the movie doesn’t have enough emotional substance to be much more than the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy.
 
“50/50” gets three guitars out of five.
 
Alien invasion, political intrigue, battling bots and spiritual trials are the subjects of new movies this week.  Vote for the next film I see and review.
 
Attack the Block—A South London teen street gang is pitted against an invasion of savage alien monsters, which turns their housing project into a sci-fi battleground. 
 
Courageous—Four men, one calling: To serve and protect.  Yet at the end of the day, they face a challenge that none of them are truly prepared to tackle: fatherhood.
 
The Ides of March—Ryan Gosling is an up-and-coming presidential campaign press secretary who finds himself involved in a political scandal.
 
Real Steel—Hugh Jackman is a washed-up fighter who takes his 2000-pound scrap metal contender to the bot boxing championships.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Do you have questions or comments?  Send them to stanthemovieman@att.net.  You can follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.