After a week's hiatus of work craziness, I'm back!
I have said this before, but I will say it again. If I had to use one word to describe what it is I look for in a movie and therefore why I so love watching movies, it would be emotion. Movies that don't evoke an emotional response in me, regardless of the nature of that response, will never get a proper thumbs up. I want to feel something when I walk out of that cinema or turn off the DVD player. Taking it a step further, I derive even more pleasure from watching movies that evoke conflicting emotional responses: an emotional roller coaster ride if you will. It is in this respect that Jonathan Levine has hit a massive home run with 50/50. Read my review (yes, another rave) after the jump.50/50 tells the story of 27 year-old Seattleite Adam and his battle with a rare form of spinal cancer. More importantly, the movie is about his varying relationships throughout that battle. They are all there: the family (smothering Jewish mother and Alzheimer's afflicted father), the romantic (hot but generally unlikeable girlfriend played by Bryce Dallas Howard), the pet (Skeletor, a retired racing greyhound), the friendship (Seth Rogen), the doctor-patient (in the absence of his doctor's bedside manner, the film focuses instead on his extremely young therapist played by Anna Kendrick), and of course the fellow patients (Allan and Mitch who almost stole the show). Together these relationships spin a wonderful story that's actually based on writer Will Reiser's own experience. I think most young people watching this film will not be able to resist seeing themselves in Adam's terrifying position, and older people will probably be empathetic towards Adam's mother. Either way, it's very difficult not to be affected by the story somehow, before it is even told.
From my description above, the movie sounds a little heavy going, but it's not in the least! Don't expect to have to sit through yet another belaboured tragedy. This is mostly thanks to Seth Rogen (Kyle), who is on top form here, playing a role that suits his actual character so well. In fact, I was not surprised to read that his character is based on… him! He was the friend that helped Will Reiser with his own cancer battle and who convinced him to write the story. But the real kudos must go to Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is one of the best young actors today (he certainly is getting all the good roles), and does a phenomenal job playing Adam. I think the key contributor is the fact that he just seems like such a likable person (in real life I mean). He actually reminds me a little of Heath Ledger in this film. I know, you probably think that's ridiculous, but he really does. Just watch. Critics have been praising his performance, and I agree - this is his best to date.
The rest of the cast were brilliant as well: Bryce Dallas Howard has mastered playing the bitchy type, Anna Kendrick was fantastic as the bumbling therapist and Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer almost did the best job of all as Adam's fellow cancer patients Allan and Mitch. There is one particular scene between Adam, Kyle, Allan and Mitch that I won't forget for a long time. The guys are just sitting around, smoking medicinal marijuana and talking about radio (Adam and Kyle work in radio), but it was so natural and pitch perfect, that it actually served as an emotional turning point for the whole film.
Speaking of emotions, as I said above, 50/50 expertly treads that thinnest of lines between comedy and tragedy. Just when the tears are starting to flow, Seth Rogen goes and says something ridiculous, or right when you think this may be the funniest film of the year, it punches you in the gut and makes you want to cry again. It's a game of emotional cat and mouse, and I loved being the victim! Never before have I seen coarse Seth Rogen style humour combined so effectively with not only a very serious issue, but also some hard hitting and powerfully emotional scenes. It's an excellent combination.
Jonathan Levine's previous film is called The Wackness, and is a film I absolutely loved. Once again he doesn't do too much with the camera, he never gets fancy, but he doesn't hold back either. One example is the soundtrack, which effectively combines a subtle original score (composed by Up and Lost composer Michael Giacchino) and existing songs, including songs from the Bee Gees (during an awesome post-weed-macaroons scene), Roy Orbison (in the best destructive montage since the Zombieland trinket store scene) and Pearl Jam (at the end).
On the whole, 50/50 was a brilliant movie. What irritates me the most about it (and that applies to South Africa only) is that it's showing only at Cinema Nouveau and is therefore not likely to be seen by a wider audience. As I said above, there are very few people that will not be emotionally affected by this story. Hmmm, I don't even know why I write this because any person who reads this blog is likely to be a Nouveau regular. Go now!