Monday, 17 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: 50/50


Not something I would have been eager to see had it not been part of the London Film Festival, 50/50 opens up a new genre with a "cancer comedy" (can-com? com-cer?), though the range isn't going to be very big, and to be honest it doesn't need to be as this film sets a high enough standard for the premise to be left alone.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is in his mid 20s, has a girlfriend, a job in radio, and best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) to hang out with. Then he is told he has cancer - a rare kind of tumour growing on his spine - and he is forced to deal with a situation so extraordinary to him and to remain calm for his parents (Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde) and girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard). His chances of survival are 50/50, and as he starts chemotherapy to try and kill the cancer he is sent to a therapist (Anna Kendrick) to help talk through his emotions, and whilst clashing at first, the two become connected by his resistance to her by-the-book techniques and Adam's condition becoming life threatening.

The film is written by Will Reiser, and based on true events which happened to him: being diagnosed with cancer early in his life and his ups and downs to fight the disease and win. Seth Rogen, a close friend to Will (and plays the same support role in this film) who watched him battle against the odds, suggested he put his experience into words and write a screenplay showing not only the tragic and painful side to cancer, but also the comic side, the parts that make you laugh and make the world not seem so bad. The balance is expertly achieved as I was laughing and crying in equal measures throughout, only serving to make 50/50 a powerfully engaging film to watch as you follow the characters to a point in their lives that is terrifying, and also life affirming.

There are so many stand alone terrific scenes in this film. There's no shying on the darker moments: the pain and sickness of chemotherapy, the breakdown of relationships as the other person can't and doesn't want to understand what the person is going through; the frustration of being out of control; of losing friends in the same position who are a rock and an inspiration, and the fear that fuels; people telling you how to feel and stating what stage of emotion you've now reached; of staring death in the face and not being ready to face it. For the laughs Reiser chooses to channel most of this through Seth Rogen's character (it's hard to believe this film would be as successful as it is without the inclusion of an actual comic). The shaving the head scene, using "I have cancer" as a pick up line in a club, trying to give positivity by listing successful celebrities that have defeated the disease "that guy out of Dexter, Lance Armstrong, Patrick Swayze...." There's the odd cliche in there as well which can only be fictionalised - the love interest in Anna Kendrick for example - but the tight script, smart and honest dialogue and full hearted performances by the actors trump it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is brilliant with his range, showcasing all the emotions so believably and with a quiet vulnerability that makes the latter scenes so upsetting to watch. (James McAvoy was originally cast in this role but had to drop out - I just cannot see it now) Seth Rogen, who I cannot normally stand, is unmissable here - his takedown of the cheating girlfriend is absolutely hilarious, and one of the best gleefully spiteful rants I have ever heard in my life: "I've hated you for months and now I have proof that you suck as a person!" He's a bit of a dickhead, but his love and loyalty to his best friend softens him immensely. The banter between them is wickedly good, with one liner after one liner meaning this film is going to be high on the quoting front: "that's your make-a-wish? You could be having sex with hookers whilst skydiving right now." I loved the ditziness of Anna Kendrick who is adorable in everything she does. Anjelica Huston is wonderful as the grief stricken over anxious mother: "I only smothered him so much because I love him." I loved they get a dog for the "healing process" and call him Skeletor. I love they hold a celebration/farewell party for Adam at work when he's perfectly fine. I love that even though you know he will be fine I spent a good 10 minutes in the third half perpetually crying as Adam opens up his mother, and says goodbye to everyone before his final operation.

No film has tackled this subject before so it's unique - cancer is always portrayed so fatalistically, a device for tragedy, but this is an actual journey with real highs and lows and characters you are attached to. 50/50 is unique and will have you spiralling through all the emotions but I highly recommend it.

This was also a premiere, and it was a delight be in the presence of Will Reiser, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick for a Q&A afterwards. I feel this film lacks the weightiness to give it a shot at the Oscars, but the response from the audience to how authentic this film is, and how it has helped them, is reward enough.




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