Four stars. Rating: R, for profanity, drug use, sexual candor and brief nudity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.30.11
Flip a coin. Heads, you live; tails, you die.
Shuffle a deck of cards — remove the jokers first — and deal the top card onto the table. Red, you live; black, you die.
|Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is mildly uneasy when he learns that his|
therapist is three years younger than he is. His uncertainty increases further when
he discovers that the inexperienced Katherine (Anna Kendrick) has had only
two previous patients.
We all exist under the shadow of survival odds; it’s how insurance companies stay in business. Most of us, though, are blessed by never knowing how good or bad our odds have become, from one moment — day, week, month — to the next.
Those receiving unexpected news regarding a deadly disease aren’t that lucky. In a heartbeat, they enter a world of statistics and percentages. Life becomes ... challenged.
Director Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 is a thoughtful, frequently funny and unexpectedly sensitive movie about a young man’s response to cancer. Will Reiser’s script is sharp, acutely perceptive and — regardless of outcome — richly life-affirming. The result is another impressive tightrope act of tone and balance: the second such film I’ve seen in the past week.
And, as with director Mona Achache’s handling of The Hedgehog, Levine’s approach to 50/50 is every bit as skilled. Frankly, I’m impressed; after a weak start with the forgettable horror flick All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Levine has fulfilled the promise he demonstrated with his far better — albeit unjustly ignored — sophomore effort, The Wackness.
Granted, 50/50 isn’t without flaws. A little bit of Seth Rogen goes a very long way, and at times he threatens to hijack the film. But Levine clearly perceives the fine line of Too Much, and he rarely lets Rogen step over it. Not an easy task, when dealing with such a comedic force of nature.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an increasingly accomplished actor of the “quiet” school, stars as Adam, a 27-year-old guy living an unremarkable, unthreatening “B-minus” life, in producer Ben Karlin’s words. Adam wouldn’t view it that way, but he’s definitely the mildly withdrawn and “safe” counterpoint to his wild ’n’ crazy best friend, Kyle (Rogen).
The guys live in Seattle (the film actually was shot in Vancouver, B.C.) and work at the local National Public Radio station, where Adam has been editing a feature on volcanoes long past the point of perfection. Adam takes pride in his craft; Kyle can’t understand why he’d bother with a piece that people will hear while driving to work, and then immediately forget. And thus Adam and Kyle’s contrasting personalities are established.