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The lighter side of cancer

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50/50' offers humor, heartbreak and humanity

Sometimes, the best, healthiest way to deal with tragedy or trauma is to laugh. Sure, it sounds counterintuitive at best, morbid at worst, but the simple truth is that there are times in our lives when you have to laugh or else you'll cry.

Discovering the humor in an inherently sad situation can be tough, especially in a film, when the slightest misstep can turn the audience against your characters in a heartbeat. Tiptoeing through the minefield of love, loss, sadness and pathos is a dangerous game, a game that can blow up in your face at any time.

But when that balance is achieved, when you can walk that narrow path through the minefield and come out on the other side, you've got something special.

'50/50' is special.

It's the story of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, 'Inception'), a quiet, reserved Seattle guy with a job he loves at NPR and an artist girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard, 'The Help') he cares for deeply. He's also got his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen, 'Paul'), a guy whose amiable crassness helps the uptight Adam to loosen up a little bit.

However, when Adam discovers that he's got a rare form of spinal cancer, he's forced to deal with his life in a whole new way. His mother (Anjelica Huston, 'When In Rome') redoubles her smothering attentions. His girlfriend winds up cheating on him and trying to lay the blame at his feet. Everyone at work treats him with kid gloves. And his hospital-appointed therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick, 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World') is brand new and struggling to find ways to help him.

We watch as Adam navigates the murky waters of mortality, dealing with the assorted awkward moments as best he can. There are moments of laughter, of sadness and of rage as Adam does his best to fight through it and stick around for the people who matter.

One of the things you need to know about this movie it's funny. There are some genuinely funny, laugh out loud-type moments here. Rogen is great; his humor obviously springs from a need to disguise his very real fear for his friend, but it never feels forced. The dynamic between him and Gordon-Leavitt is outstanding the two really feel like best friends.

The supporting cast is dynamite as well. Huston is her usual awesome grand dame self, creating the honest emotion of an overprotective mother who can no longer protect. Veteran character actors Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer are outstanding as Adam's chemo buddies. Howard is wonderfully self-absorbed as Adam's girlfriend, while the burgeoning interaction between Adam and Katherine is enthralling to watch. You actually see the slow building of trust in that dynamic; it's great to watch.

But make no mistake this is Joseph Gordon-Leavitt's movie. I've mentioned before that I believe him to be our Next Great One, and this role certainly didn't change my mind. His portrayal of Adam is nuanced and subtle. There's an unwavering believability about everything he does on screen that engrosses and enthralls the viewer. Every single thing he does on the screen feels unforced and honest; really a remarkable performance. Get used to it he's going to be dropping great performances on us for the next two decades.

One more thing about this movie: You will cry. There are moments throughout this film that are simply overpowering emotionally. Is it a touch manipulative? Absolutely. So what? There's nothing wrong with a movie making you feel. Nothing is overdone or overwrought; yes, it manipulates, but it does so without melodrama. The emotion is honest and very powerful.

I'm not going to try to be clever here. Just go see this movie. It's a smart, sad, sweetly funny portrayal of one man's battle with mortality and the friends who help him along the way. It's just plain good. And that is more than good enough.

Last modified on Monday, 24 October 2011 08:22

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