Like Hansel from Zoolander, Joseph Gordon Levitt is just so hot right now.* 500 Days of Summer, what? Supporting role in the upcoming Batman movie, huh? 3 piece suit wearing slick mo-fo, Inception style, hey? And who didn’t love him in 3rd Rock From the Sun, right?? My point is that he’s a great actor with range, and that’s what they needed to fill the role of sudden cancer haver, Adam, in the latest Hollywood dramedy, “50/50.”
“50/50” sort of starts off like a Spider-Man movie. You’ve got Adam, clearly a bit of a geek and super into radio broadcasting. He’s got a best friend who is cooler and more confident than him. He’s got a job with an obnoxious boss who undervalues his work. His father, while not dead like Uncle Ben, has Alzheimers and doesn’t even recognize his son. Then Adam undergoes a “transformation” at a lab, except that instead of transforming into a superhero with the proportionate strength and agility of a spider, he transforms into someone who just found out he has cancer. Also, Dallas Bryce-Howard is there to screw things up.
Just so we’re clear, this movie is heavier on the “dram” and lighter on the “edy.” It is not a whimsical romp through the hilarious world of death and chemotherapy. The movie follows Adam closely and we can see and feel the emotional spectrum he runs through. Sometimes it’s not an easy process to watch, but it’s real and powerful and honest. Adam struggles to stay positive. He approaches his cancer with a general lethargy, a sort of passive indifference. But slowly you can see that lethargy give away to malaise, until eventually the unfairness of his situation just becomes suffocating. It is Adam’s coming to terms with his own illness that really drives the story. I think that Adam’s own feeling of numbness finally building to an emotional crescendo will probably resonate deeply with a generation that sometimes feels aimlessly drifting through life, experiencing neither highs nor lows.
Of course while Adam is the central fixture of the movie, there are many important supporting characters. Seth Rogen in particular, who plays Adam’s best friend Kyle, delivered a fantastic performance. Granted, Rogen may not have strayed far from his acting wheelhouse, but I still thought that he balanced Levitt out nicely. He interjected some of the best lines of comedy, as is Rogen’s prerogative, and was responsible for the scene that choked me up the most. At first Kyle seemed like a guy who was more interested in using Adam’s illness to score sympathy sex for himself than in taking care of his friend, but you realize that he’s taking care of him in the best way he knows how.
Speaking of boobs, can we please talk about Anna Kendrick for a second?? Don’t worry, I’ll throw in a picture of her soon enough, but I need to space the pictures out with actual words. Words which I will use to describe her performance as Adam’s quirky, sincere, but ultimately naive therapist, Katherine. I thought Kendrick did a great job in
Twilight Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but here she got to flex her acting chops a little more. At 24 and fresh out of school, you can see this young doctor (a Doogie Howser joke going completely over her head) is passionate about helping people. Thing is, she just doesn’t have the experience yet to know what’s really going to happen. Plenty of book learnin’, but short on the street smarts. She has a unique and unorthodox relationship with Adam, especially as they try to reconcile their growing closeness with the ethics and limits of a doctor/patient dynamic. Katherine starts to learn about herself and the harsh realities that accompany a career helping cancer patients.
Final assessment, I thought that this was a well handled vehicle showcasing the human condition in the face of arbitrary adversity. It struck a delicate balance between triumph and macabre, humor and tragedy, the good and the bad, and how it’s all a part of life.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think about it? Let me know in the comments below!
*Apparently in a drunken stupor, I “borrowed” this little gem of insight from the magnanimous Nikita Tolani. So I’m giving her credit for the comparison.