Movie #12: 50/50

I should probably watch more movies about people with serious illness. Despite my usual resentment of manipulation, I am always moved by these kinds of films. 50/50 is definitely an example of an “illness movie” done right. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a good performance in almost anything (I want to say that playing a ridiculous Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was not his fault. He probably thought no one would know it was him behind the mask.) and he plays 27-year-old cancer survivor Alan Lerner with wonderfully subtle charm and naturalness. In fact, this movie is filled with an all-star cast of wonderful actors. Seth Rogen (my favourite of the crude comedian side-kick types) plays Alan’s best friend; Bryce Dallas Howard plays his short-suffering girlfriend; Anjelica Huston (my favourite next to Meryl Streep for female acting powerhouses) plays his strong, smothering mother; and Anna Kendrick (having totally outgrown her Twilight claim-to-fame) is great as his inexperienced therapist. The story of the movie is extremely simple and straightforward. Alan finds out that he has a rare form of cancer. As he gets treatment, we get to watch how he and those around him cope and come to terms with his condition. This movie seems incredibly natural (not nearly as syrupy and sentimental as I might make it sound). The actors speak and act like they aren’t even acting. I especially enjoyed Kendrick’s performance where her character tries to cover for obvious inadequacies and professional insecurities by falling back to book-learning. Her flashes of awkwardness, and continual attempts at being chipper are delightful. Gordon-Levitt has already mastered that shy calmness and sincerity in many previous roles and he is amazing as the “relaxed” Alan. Actors playing characters suffering from illness can be prone to overacting, as if to persuade us that their predicament is serious and deserves empathy. Here Alan spends a lot of the movie with a very normal, calm attitude and it’s not pointed to as denial or insanity. People going through these kinds of tough situations don’t always freak out or break down. They cope and take things one day at a time. (Anyway, I’m spouting off platitudes, but this movie doesn’t do that.) While there is humour sprinkled generously throughout the movie, it’s really only Rogen’s character who generates the big laughs (everything else is just enough to warmly stimulate the corners of our mouths to turn up). His jokes and seeming bull-headedness border on callous in the context of this movie, but he also comes off as the truest friend. As I said, illness movies always get me. Having been in the hospital a few times (never for anything as serious) I’m just a sucker for a hug and a hospital gown. (4.5 out of 5)

12 down, 38 to go!

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