Most critics have acknowledged how 50/50, directed by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) finds borderline tasteful comedy in any grim situation like young Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose jogging back pains is actually a malignant tumor with an unpronounceable scientific name. There’s also my search in something deeper than that, in how this movie shows these characters within boundaries set both by others and themselves and the crossing of boundaries, as in ‘movie world set-ups’ with resolution to conflicts.
The first scenes competently set-up what the characters are like before the diagnosis wedges itself violently into their situations and these characters often fall within some spectrum between being the funny one and the depressing on, as they would in life. There’s Adam’s best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) who is intentionally funny, his mostly unintentionally funny novice counselor Katherine (Anna Kendrick), his mother Diane (Anjelica Huston) who is only funny from the fourth wall and through an imagined hindsight and his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is pretty dramatic and sees the illness as a negative thing she can’t fully endure that the thought of entering the hospital wing with him is unthinkable.
Adam at first is the Alan Ruck to Kyle’s Matthew Broderick, their opposites mixing because they work together in radio. The silver lining in his situation other than Kyle’s jokey optimism is how Adam can oscillate within the spectrum of emotion and, as circumstances would have it, move up a bit to see Kyle’s coarse yet optimistic side of things.
The only downside with Adam ‘hanging out with his bro’ is that the mother major characters, who are female, become ignored or occasionally turn into insufferable villains. It’s not hard to make that assumption because of the associations I have about Seth Rogen and the word I used earlier on Twitter. It’s hard for me to side with Adam as he’s cursing at Rachael, the latter crying on his porch.
He also walks out from Katherine’s office, a final symptom of his lack of respect for her, a young inexperienced doctor. Yes, I’m thankful that an exchange exists when Katherine calls Adam out. But despite most of these actions being temporary and all the hurt forgiven, there’s something unapologetic and queasy about Adam and Kyle’s mistreatment and suspicion of women. And of course most of the cancer patients are male and most characters taking care of these men are female and the nurses are perfect lest Adam’s voice strikes with damnation and the script allows him meanness because he might die soon.
Before I get carried away with negativity, let me say that Levitt is more wan here than in any other role in his decade-long film career. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the lack of hair and make-up that comes across the screen but his performance proves that he’s one of the most versatile actors in his age. He’s even one guarded step behind in Adam’s scenes above, instead of acting on intention he behaves instinctively, performing in a naturalistic way. There’s also a scene when, As Adam has shunned everyone else, he and Kyle face each other’s issues, leading to Levitt’s haunting primal scream.
Most of the actors are equally toned down except for Rogen, who has the hard job of carrying the funny side, peppering Kyle’s dialogue with vulgarities. Kendrick tones down the watchable histrionics of her early roles to become the movie’s voice of sanity, Huston beings a hard exterior with softer inner qualities. And it kind of pisses me off that Bryce Dallas Howard can actually act.
Surely everyone diagnosed with cancer is new to it, even Adam’s older chemo buddies. But so is Katherine, admitting that Adam is her third patient. She tries a lot of methods like instrumental meditation music and the polite but tough love, making Adam feel out of the loop in his already precarious state. The one that she keeps returning to is the touching, an act of connection that she has probably seen others do that she feels the need to learn it. It might make sense if an expert psychiatrist pats expertly Adam in the arm three or so times and he accepts it during the last time. We’ll never know how the movie’s alchemy might change if his therapist was ‘some grandma.’ But it is more fitting that her patting is more awkward if she does it incorrectly, symbolic of the rough journey where both the sick and his doctor have to talk to each properly other to finally get it right.
- Film Review: 50/50 (3.5 stars) (arts.nationalpost.com)
Every blogger, website and their grandmothers have already written about the trailer for Roman Polanski’s Carnage. Twitch has uploaded it on Vimeo but the few YouTube versions of it only have less than 2000 hits combined, which needs to be corrected. I like the art direction, blocking and of course, the cast. Christoph Waltz’ sincerity while telling Jodie Foster that his character Alan’s son didn’t disfigure the latter’s, or Foster making us laugh with just one line. As a fan of Kate Winslet, I’m a tad worried about her hamming it up although she gets most of the headlines written about the trailer so far. I’m also glad that Yasmin Reza, who wrote the original play in French, adapted the material herself, making it more vernacular. Which means that English interpreter Christopher Hampton has no hand in this at all. Enjoy!
Growing up when I did and now knowing any better I watched a lot of guilty pleasure crap from the 90’s. Sister Act was my introduction to This is also my introduction to Harvey Keitel and Bill Nunn. The latter seems to age between three years, from being Spike Lee’s Radio Raheem, the punk that cops shoot to a Lt. Eddie Souther who saves nightclub singer Dolores (Whoopi Goldberg) from Vincent LaRocca (Keitel) by tucking her into some inevitably awkward sitcom-like placement in a San Francisco convent and turning her into a Sister Mary Clarence.
Goldberg and Maggie Smith leave impressions but I didn’t know that both, who squaring off in the film, are EGOTs, Goldberg having a Grammy and Smith having two Golden Globes. It’s not their best work but let them have their fun. But I couldn’t help but compare both to other movie nuns, Clarence being Sister Ruth. I also see a lot of Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) in Smith’s take on the Mother Superior, the northern British inflections highlighting their controlled anger against younger, rebellious nuns symbolizing a world against tradition. Sitting on the pews she looks up to Clarence on the stage instead of looking down on her to supervise her, Clarence’s implicit message of change as helpful yet jarring enough for her not to accept at first.
It’s snobbish to not see this film’s few merits like casting the faces playing other nuns. It’s easy for the film to seem to have been, pardon the expression, cut from the same cloth. Instead the movie actually allows most of them to stick out with personalities, and it must be hard for these actresses to express that through a habit and a square hole where their faces go. There are the more fleshed out characters from the sunshine’ like Sister Mary Patrick (Kathy Najimy, also famous for playing Peggy Hill in “King of the Hill”), sister Mary Robert (Wendy Makkena) who fights her own timidity by being the nun choir’s stand out voice and acerbically hilarious Sister Mary Lazarus, who seems to have had an equally and healthy adult life before taking her vows.
I also want to do some armchair assessments about how films like this perpetuate the image of the urban area. There are cringe-inducing scenes like one when Clarence, Patrick and Robert sneak out from the convent across the street into some dingy biker bar (I swear if I see a leather jacket in a 90’s movie again). And this isn’t a Whoopi movie if there isn’t happy synthesized trumpet music during chase scenes. Was the Haight-Ashbury that bad around the late 80’s and early 90’s? I suppose this movie’s fantasy of the Church revitalizing terrible neighborhoods is better than Starbucks doing the same thing in the real world. And at least this is about Clarence instead of her being a supporting character in the neighbourhood.
Well the links lead from me to me. Let me begin with the new character posters for Steven Soderbergh‘s Contagion, which I talked about for Nathaniel R’s The Film Experience. Blythe Danner has seen her daughter’s poster, apparently. The comments went beautifully, as people remembered the Gwyneth and Winona frenemy situation and surprisingly, Matt Damon‘s poster is competing to be the second favourite along with Laurence Fishburne‘s.
Speaking of Kate Winslet movies, she’s playing the role of She-Hulk in Roman Polanski‘s new film Carnage, a movie I won’t shut up about until its release. I didn’t like the poster, but it’s a surprise hit for the commenters at Anomalous Material, where I’ve also been busy writing news and reviews. I think that John C. Reilly has the best colouring here, while I’m not into Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz‘ orange so much although yes, there are loathsome orange people out there.
I also reviewed Crazy, Stupid Love at YourKloset, a website that I write for when movies and fashion collide, which thankfully happens often enough for me.
I understand the career woman who wants to get married – I’ve actually seen that happen. But Rosalind Russell’s character manipulates a jail-bird into a sound bite that gets him in the chair and that’s supposed to be funny? Or maybe I had misled genre expectations.