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)
Observe and Report got a lukewarm reception at the box office mostly because of unfortunate timing – Warner Brothers released the movie about a mall cop three months after the Kevin Smith ahem, blockbuster vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop and suffered for it. Thankfully, Criticize This writer and Indefensible founder Andrew Parker and Exclaim!’s Will Sloan are ready to make us believe that this movie is a masterpiece. Seth Rogen won’t be at the Toronto Underground Cinema at both this Friday and Sunday screenings, but for us gays and girls who like our guys ‘Rogen size,’ Torontoist‘s John Semley will come to Friday along with CinemaScope’s Adam Nayman – unconfirmed – to trash the movie. I have no idea what size Mr. Sloan comes in. Then this Sunday, NOW Magazine‘s Norman Wilner will introduce, defend Observe and Report and show its similarities to another film showing at the Underground that night – Taxi Driver.
I have cheese factory duties on both screening times so I won’t get to see Rogen and his apparently career-best film performance. Neither will I see the great Celia Weston, nor apparently the greatest fight scene in an English language film, nor the longest full frontal scene ever – not a pun. Nor will I be there to snark that ‘I hate malls, I like boutiques better, I hate the suburbs, I live in Toronto.’ I will be there in spirit. Supporting cast includes Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, Patton Oswalt, etc. Both screenings start at 7PM. Proceeds go to the Organization for Bipolar Affective Disorder.
- Picks of the Week, April 9, 2009 (mrmovietimes.com)
I, a ‘pretentious’ ‘film blogger,’ howling my way through the second half of a decent comedy, only trying not shitting on it later.
Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) go on a road trip starting from the San Diego Comic-Con and slices through UFO sites within America. This is the reverse Y Tu Mama Tambien, where meeting people along the way mitigates the two’s homosexual bond. Let’s talk about the fourth addition to Graeme and Clive’s RV, Ruth Braggs (Kristen Wiig), Graeme’s eventual love interest, making Clive jealous. Unlike their roles in Shaun of the Dead, Graeme’s goofy and Clive is sane, gay but never says it. I have yet to decide what I think of this non-revelation. Then we move to the RV’s third wheel. Paul (Seth Rogen). An alien. The first half of the film is getting through how hard it is to watch a movie with a CGI alien in it.
As Graeme and Ruth’s weirdo romance grows, Clive and Paul have a passive aggressive relationship. When they first meet, Graeme faints and pees his pants, the latter incident reaping expected comic rewards. The movie’s also about making effective winks and nudges to alien pop culture, or mostly said winks and nudges to Steven Spielberg’s career.
Part of the fun in this road trip is also a chase. Watching Clive and Graeme’s RV cut through the highway seems like an American pastoral, compared to how the FBI goons (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader) are depicted in menacing black suits and more menacing black cars. It’s funny watching them try to be indifferent to the alien subculture while trying to catch an alien. Tailing both the RV and the FBI is Ruth’s crazy father (John Carroll Lynch), stereotypically Christian and all. But wait for a James Cameron reference that true geeks will be gratified with. 3.5/5