When you set your sights on Hollywood, it’s probably hard to keep your independent filmmaking cred in tact. Using Will Reiser’s autobiographical debut screenplay and enlisting the likes of stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen was the best choice for director Jonathan Levine. After cutting his teeth with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and winning the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award in 2008 for The Wackness, it’s no surprise to see Levine dipping his toes in the Hollywood pool. And now he brings his best film yet with 50/50.
The mixture of humor and heart has long been a Hollywood staple. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it does, it’s a thing of beauty. Not to mention possible Oscar accolades. When you consider the fact that Reiser based the screenplay on his personal battle against cancer, it just kicks things up a notch. At first glance, Rogen and Gordon-Levitt may seem like an odd pairing but the two share a much more natural rapport than you’d assume. Also in Levine’s favor stand Anna Kendrick further proving herself so much better than those horrendous “vampire” flicks she’s contracted into, along with the charming as ever Anjelica Huston, and Opie’s daughter Bryce Dallas Howard in a possible chance at winning Best Villain at next year’s MTV Movie Awards.
The story is simple: Adam (Gordon-Levitt) lives a life of abiding by the rules; he won’t even jog against street signs when there’s no traffic in sight on an early Seattle morning. He has just provided his artist girlfriend Rachael (Howard) her own drawer and relies on his best friend Kyle (Rogen) to drive him around when he’s not taking the bus. After a few weeks of consistent back pain, Adam finally heads to the doctor only to be diagnosed with schwannoma, i.e. cancer. He tells Kyle, whose reaction is that he may throw up, along with Rachael, who claims she’s going to stand by him when he presents her with the easy out. But he hesitates to inform his smothering mother Diane (Huston), whose already dealing with enough issues as his father Richard (Serge Houde) has Alzheimer’s.
Soon enough, Adam finally feels the gravity of his situation. He’s starts chemotherapy sessions where he befriends older cancer patients Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer) who talk him into some pot macaroons. Adam also starts seeing Katherine (Kendrick), a therapist who happens to be a doctoral student only on her now third patient.
As the condition worsens, Kyle continually tries to help Adam make the most of his situation after they shave his head when they start trying to pick up chicks at the bar using his cancer and medicinal marijuana to lure them back to his house. Let alone that all this is after Kyle catches Rachael kissing a bearded hippie at an art gallery confirming suspicions after Adam tells Kyle they haven’t had sex in weeks. Finally, Adam begins to rely on himself, his friends and family, and Katherine, to make it through the hardships.
If you’re not laughing one minute, you’ll be crying the next; at least in the final half hour. Thankfully the film never relies on simply cuing the violins or having the characters break into hysterics to pull the sentiment out of thin air. Here is a group of people you truly care about and want to see prevail against the odds. Even when Adam realizes that finally driving a car will have to make do as his Make a Wish. The cast plays like gangbusters and I won’t be surprised to see Gordon-Levitt nominated come Oscar time. Levine also has high chances as he pulls no punches with Reiser’s brilliantly self-deprecating yet emotionally brutally honest screenplay. I personally hope to see 50/50 nominated in at least four categories if not more. And I’d say if Reiser’s odds were that good, then so is the film’s. So far it’s definitely my personal pick for Best Picture.
Photos courtesy Summit Entertainment