by Ryan Hill
With the exception of those squarely aimed at award season, dramas lately have been dominated by independent filmmakers. These indie dramas usually prove to be more obnoxious and frustrating than anything else, an indictment of suburban life created by people who live in the big city and look down upon those who don’t.
That’s what makes “50/50” so refreshing. It’s a highly entertaining mainstream drama that isn’t in it for the glory. It just wants to do right by everyone involved.
Based on the true story of Will Reiser, the film’s screenwriter, and his battle with cancer, “50/50” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a 27-year-old radio producer who doesn’t drink, do drugs or anything that could be considered unhealthy. After he experiences back pain, his doctor informs him he has a rare form of spinal cancer and his odds of survival are, well, 50/50.
Fortunately for Adam, he’s surrounded by people who want to help him – his best friend (Seth Rogen), his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his overprotective mother (Anjelica Huston) and his therapist (Anna Kendrick), for whom Adam is the third patient. Ever.
As Adam begins chemotherapy and makes friends with some of the other cancer patients – all much older than he is – he tries to take it all in stride, even as his therapist attempts to make him aware of the stages of emotions he’s going through.
Gordon-Levitt, who broke into the mainstream with the offbeat “500 Days of Summer,” continues his ascent to the A-list of actors with a raw, touching performance that captures the reality of being young and sick.
Seth Rogen essentially plays himself in the film, but since, in reality, he’s one of the screenwriter’s best friends, a lot of his dialogue is likely things he actually said while his friend was going through the ordeal. The rest of the ensemble gives the film jolts of energy, especially the surprisingly funny Huston.
Director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) shoots “50/50” like an indie film, which keeps things on an even keel, preventing the proceedings from becoming a melodramatic Lifetime movie of the week. Levine is smart enough to let his talented cast and Reiser’s outstanding script do the heavy lifting for him. Otherwise, the comedy would have felt forced and the drama ham-fisted, and Levine’s lean direction makes the drama in the film that much more moving and powerful.
“50/50” is a funny, touching mainstream drama with an independent feel to it, making it sort of a throwback drama. The actors and screenplay stand out as the director stands back to let the camera capture the magic, making “50/50” one of the best dramas, and films, of 2011.
Grade: 3 1/2 out of 4
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick
Studio: Summit Entertainment