Is laughter the best medicine?
Is laughter the best medicine?
A dramadey about
cancer? No thanks would be the
imidiate response right? Cancer is
no laughing matter, nor should it be made to be one in any shape. But, stop a minute. Everyone knows someone who has had The
Big C. It is one of those diseases
that like, love, death and marriage touches us all these days. So if you could somehow make a film
about it, make it a little kookie, a little Indie, cast Mr. Indie actor himself
Joseph Gordon Levitt in the lead and
make it honest, heartfelt and upbeat, wouldn’t that be a film that people might
connect with? In 50/50’s case the
answer is a resounding yes.
Based on a true
story, Adam (Gordon Levitt) is a mild mannered healthy living guy. He doesn’t smoke, he waits for the
green man when crossing the road and he’s good to his slightly distracted
girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). So when he goes to the doctor
complaining of back pain and is told it is a tumor on his spine Adam’s world
quickly changes. His
over-protective mother Diane (Anjelica
Houston) says she wants to move in.
Rachael seems to grow increasingly more distant and his best friend Kyle
(Seth Rogen) carries on as usual,
happy to use Adam’s illness as a way to score girls. The only semblance of hope Adam finds is in his young
therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick),
but Adam is only her third ever patient and learning on the job isn’t what Adam
needs right now.
50/50 is a fine
example of the funny bone syndrome.
It hurts like hell at times and yet if you don’t laugh about it you will
almost certainly be consumed by the sheer injustice of it. Director Jonathan Levine is no stranger
to mixing and bending genres. With
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
he made a teen romance blossom into a bloody horror. In The Wackness
(2008) he managed to take a coming of age drama and infuse it with a nostalgic
sense of comedy. 50/50 is no
different. Taking a subject matter
that by all rights should not be entertaining and injecting it with real life
comedy seems strangely apt.
Adam goes through
the text-book stages of grief with endlessly quotable lines. When told he has cancer he responds
with; “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink….I recycle”. It’s the kind of line you can imagine running through your
mind if you were given such a devastating bit of information. When out trying to pick up girls he’s
convinced no one would be interested in him because he looks “like Voldemort”. It may be a cliché but it’s funny
because it’s true.
film there are moments when it could easily sink into the depressing state of
maudlin, but neither the script nor Levine allow this to happen. If anything Adam’s battle with cancer
is life affirming. Not because he
embraces life in that ‘only in Hollywood’ fashion, but because he is resigned
to the fact that he’s probably going to die. At his chemotherapy he meets other cancer sufferers Philip
Baker Hall and Matt Frewer who say it’s not right that someone so young could
be going through this. What they
then go on to say is that thanks to the chemo his dick will stop working. And therein lies the key to 50/50’s
success. Every time you think it’s going to turn to a depressing drama there is
an honest laugh to be had.
The cast do their
bit as well. Rogen does his
typical Frat boy routine spouting endlessly about sex and farts which while at
first seem annoying you rapidly realise is part of his way of dealing with his
ailing friend. Dallas Howard
continues her latest trend, with this and The Help, of playing a thinly
shrouded bitch, but does it in such a way you still kind of like her. Even if you would happily run her down
crossing the road. Anna Kendrick
brings her innocent wide-eyed charm creating just enough of a romantic interest,
while remaining distant from Adam, to make you long for not only Adam’s
recovery but also their awkward relationship. But it is Gordon Levitt who makes 50/50 so watchable. At one minute vulnerable the next angry
and bitter at his lot in life Gordon Levitt never over-eggs the emotions. In someone else’s hands it would have
been the opportunity to go big and get all manner of award nominations, and not
in a good way. In Gordon Levitt’s
hands it becomes believable, an honest and heartbreaking portrayal of how
utterly num it must be to have to face your own mortality.
You will laugh,
you will cry and you will come out of it knowing that life has a habit of
throwing things at you when you least expect it. 50/50 is one of those things and is a welcome surprise.