50/50

The trend of trailers revealing all the plot and most of the best lines of a movie continues apace with the new movie “from the makers of Superbad”, 50/50. I guess the trailer guys don’t care about anything other than opening weekend.

It’s a credit to this movie’s acting, editing, direction and just heart, that those lines are still funny in the movie, even after you’ve seen them in the trailer a dozen times.

“From the creators of Superbad,” the trailers tell us and, yeah, this is pretty much the Superbad guys ten years later, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the Michael Cera role and Seth Rogen in the Jonah Hill role. That is to say, Seth Rogen is finally playing himself. (Both films are autobiographical of Seth Rogan, though in Superbad his skinny friend is childhood buddy Evan Goldberg,and in 50/50 his skinny friend is Will Reiser.)

Anyway, the two leads are a big leap in the looks and charm department from the earlier film, but the heart is still very similar: Gordon-Levitt’s character Adam is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and his buddy Kyle is there to help him through it. Kyle is crude, a little reckless, and more than a little insensitive but he’s a friend, and this friendship goes a long way.

Adam’s girlfriend is played by rapidly-becoming-stereotyped-as-a-high-maintenance-bitch actress Bryce Dallas Howard, whose behavior is as predictable as it is tragic in how Adam fails to see it coming.

The movie basically concerns how Adam handles his cancer—the 50/50 of the title referring to his odds of survival, and how those around him handle it, and does so with a fairly light touch. Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer provide a little perspective as (much older) patients receiving chemo at the same time as Adam. Angelica Huston—who for some reason I kept thinking was Olympia Dukakis—plays Adam’s mother, and their relationship (as well as his relationship with his senile father, played by Serge Houde).

The other interesting relationship is between Adam and a brand-spanking new counselor, Katherine. The two have a kind of tension as Katherine tries very hard to help Adam, but her constant assurances that what he’s feeling is “perfectly normal” isn’t as soothing as she thinks it should be. (I’ve noticed that a lot these days: People trying to comfort others, at least in movies, by saying “That’s perfectly normal.” I don’t get why that’s supposed to make someone feel better either.)

Katherine is played by relative newcomer, Anna Kendrick, who is as cute as a button, in stark contrast to her shrewish, slutty character in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Also, she has a great nose, that I hope she keeps. (Nobody keeps their noses in Hollywood any more.)

All in all, this movie accomplishes the difficult task of dealing with a serious subject with a light touch, but without trivializing that. It deals with a lot of heavy emotions without being glib or mawkish—this is probably a big part of the autobiographical influence. And you don’t really know till the end whether or not Adam will live.

The Boy, The Flower and I all liked it.

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