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50/50 - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

Perhaps both the best and worst thing that can be said about 50/50 is that it's a mixed bag. But at least it's the kind of mixed bag that ends with the sweet stuff: Rarely does a movie that begins so awkwardly end so gracefully.

It certainly starts off on the wrong foot. Very early on, Adam (a perfectly suitable Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sees his doctor to find out what's up with his back pains. The doctor is very evasive, bordering on genuine asshole, in telling him he has cancer. Now, granted, there are certainly real-life doctors who are dispassionate and insensitive, but come on. The scene just doesn't ring true.

That alone wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for script writer Will Reiser, in his feature writing debut, taking the misguided tack of piling on the problems. Adam also has an overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston), a father with Alzheimer's (poor Serge Houde has nothing to do but sitting around looking spaced), and a cheating girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard). Seriously? Is it not bad enough that the guy has cancer?

So all this gets established very early on, and there becomes a sense that we're very definitely headed in the wrong direction.

But then there's Kyle, Adam's best friend (Seth Rogen, who is lovable in spite of himself), and while not perfect, he ends up being one of Adam's greatest sources of support. Rogen, nearly always fun but never exactly Oscar-quality, proves unusually nuanced here, clearly because the script is largely based on his own experience helping Reiser deal with cancer. And finally there's Katherine (Anna Kendrick, previously seen as the young upstart in Up in the Air), Adam's surprisingly young therapist who admits he's only her third patient. Katherine has her own issues, and struggles a bit to keep them from coming up as she learns the trade and works toward a doctorate. Kendrick plays her pitch perfectly, striking the right mix of awkward compassion.

Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer (that's Max Headroom!) also offer strong turns as fellow cancer patients who get treatment at the same time Adam receives chemotherapy. They provide a little bit of comic relief as well as a kind of levity that none of the other characters quite manage. Yes, this is that rare movie about Serious Subject Matter that also manages to be light-hearted, but it also refuses to shy away from many of the difficult truths about dealing with cancer. It's a whirlwind, both physically and emotionally, both for the person with cancer and for those who love him. It's a tricky balance of tone, and director Jonathan Levine deftly walks the line most -- but not all -- of the time.

So, after some initial scenes that are poorly paced and filled with clunky dialogue, 50/50 steadily improves, thanks in large part to the commitment of the actors. The subject matter is unusually close to the filmmakers' hearts, and it shows -- and it helps. And if there must be some crappy parts, it's much better to get through them at the beginning than to save them for the end (although I would personally have preferred getting rid of the selfish girlfriend much faster). And by the end of this movie, which is realistic as well as hopeful and touching, it becomes a pleasant surprise.

Anna Kendrick and Joseph Gordon Levitt discuss cancer in '50/50'.

Overall: B
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