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50/50 -- Film Review

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50/50 is a very real film about very real people; somewhat of an aberration from Seth Rogen's usual collection. The key ingredient in unlocking success is to finely sift the humour (generated primarily by Rogen) into the tragic story of Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27yr old radio writer discovering that those niggling back pains he's been experiencing for the past couple of weeks are actually the work of a malignant tumour, the name of which he initially has trouble in pronouncing (the more syllables, the worse it is). For the most part, I proclaim it a success -- it never strays too far into either territory and plays efficiently on the audience's emotions. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you probably won't realise this is based on the true story of Will Reiser (the film's writer and friend of Rogen).

Rogen occupies the role of Adam's best friend, Kyle. This is the role he played in Reiser's real ordeal and here we see something genuine from Rogen, in contrast to his high-profile turns in 'The Pineapple Express', 'Superbad', 'Knocked Up' and to some degree, his highly underrated performance in 'Observe and Report'. Here, he is genuine -- a person we could come across in our everyday lives, and probably an accurate representation of what Rogen may be like off camera (but a tad Hollywood-ised).

The script takes a few liberties (I'd imagine) in order to make good on the 'never stray too far' deal; the story doesn't represent the repercussions and frailties that such a crippling ailment can generate, but it's not about that anyway. In essence, it's a feel-good movie about a man who did survive, and his tale isn't told to turn cancer into something to be laughed at, but to depict the experience that he and, unfortunately, many others are forced to live through, and to show how it can be dealt with through the support and love of family and friends. Some are able to cope, highlighted by Adam's mother (a smothering, yet sweet performance by Anjelica Huston), whilst others, like his girlfriend, Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) find themselves breathless, strapped into a corner, unable to break free.

Distilled as it may be, it's engrossing to watch how each character reacts to the news. The director, Jonathan Levine, has an easy job, allowing his adept cast to lead the way. Gordon-Levitt emobodies all the aspects of lost childhood; baby-faced, innocent and sullen, he's in fine form (as always) here. The support, Huston, Rogen, Dallas Howard and Anna Kendrick (playing Katie, Adam's young, inexperienced therapist) all play their parts, dot their i's and cross their t's. Yet, two performances stand out above all (bar Rogen perhaps), those of experienced actors Matt Frewer and Phillip Baker Hall playing Mitch and Alan respectively, two elderly patients suffering chemo alongside Adam. Both are small parts, but hold a lot of meaning. 80 years young, both convey the most positive aspects of Adam's journey. Getting high on weed-stuffed macaroons, tossing their ailments about as mere jokes, it was an oddly light part of the movie, when in contrast, the tone would darken when the jovial conversation landed on the whereabouts and support of Rachel (y'know, his girlfriend...)

It's a film that is worth watching because it evokes a strong sense of faith, survival and support in times of crisis. It is kept commercially viable but this doesn't hinder its powerful final act. It won't make many ripples in the Hollywood pond, but it'll be a film that you'll be glad you saw, whether it be for the talented cast, the subtle humour, the heart-wrenching story, or for Joseph Gordon Levitt's Voldermort hair-do (or lack of...).


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