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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

50/50

50/50

** SPOILERS **

50/50 could be described as [500] Days of Summer, except instead of meeting Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt meets cancer. Gordon-Levitt is a 27 year old radio producer in Seattle who visits the doctor for lingering back pains and walks away with the worst news one can hear: he has a rare form of spinal cancer. The title of the movie is derived from his expected survival rate, which he researched on web.md, "but that's the Internet, so..."  50/50 takes a comedic, yet careful tack in how Gordon-Levitt deals with his terminal illness: he breaks the news to his domineering but well-meaning mother Angelica Huston, his father with Alzheimer's, his flaky live-in artist girlfriend Bryce Dallas Howard, and his best friend Seth Rogen. Rogen, after nearly throwing up on the street at the news, takes Gordon-Levitt's illness and uses it as a means to score with chicks. (Though they learn the hard way that walking up to women in bars and leading off with, "I have cancer!" is a rotten idea.) The lead performances are all terrific. Gordon-Levitt anchors the film heroically. Rogen is at his best in 50/50, a machine gun of crude, funny one liners, yet he still ably communicates his caring and affection for Gordon-Levitt. In Rogen's funniest bit in the movie, he gleefully exposes Dallas-Howard cheating on Gordon-Levitt. ("I finally nailed that cunt!") Meanwhile, Gordon-Levitt seeks counseling and winds up with a 24 year old therapist, Anna Kendrick. Kendrick and Gordon-Levitt's repartee and growing bond is a highlight, with gentle, smart writing that never goes too far beyond the boundaries of their doctor-patient relationship. The best scene in the film is Gordon-Levitt, who took having cancer like a champ, finally having a nervous breakdown and phoning Kendrick. Their conversation is short, sweet, and meaningful. 50/50 is based on the real life experience of writer and cancer-survivor Will Reiser, and verisimilitude is palpable throughout the film. The only weak links in 50/50 are Gordon-Levitt's physician, who comes off as rather cold blooded when informing his patient of his cancer, and the father with Alzheimer's, who seems an unnecessary distraction. 50/50 hits the funny bone, tugs at the heart strings, and successfully has it both ways. 

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