REVIEW: 50/50

29 09 2011

The cinema of cancer is a curious thing.  The disease is usually a tack-on to the end of a movie, merely a plot device meant to make the audience appreciate the fragility and fleeting nature of life.  When the film is centered around it, the pathos is meant to unlock our most tucked-away, maudlin sentiments.

Cancer is less of a medical condition on screen than it is a transformative experience.  The victim is less of a human and more of a fighter or soldier, the underdog forced to do battle for their life.  Having known people who have been struck with this horrible disease – some emerging victorious, others not so fortunate – I can attest that they must indeed lace up their boxing gloves and pugnaciously duke it out.  But there’s more to the struggle than chemotherapy and radiation; there’s a desire for a Warren Harding-style return to normalcy as people insist on treating the patient as a different person living in a different world.

This is precisely where “50/50,” Jonathan Levine’s sophomore feature, excels.  Rather than hitting us with a tsunami of sadness, it takes us through all the emotions of living with and through cancer.  From Will Reiser’s moving script comes a story “inspired” (as the lawyers required it be advertised), by real experiences that is rooted in a startlingly authentic humanity.  His protagonist, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Adam, is never defined by his unpronounceable cancer; he is defined by his responses to a landscape that shifts much faster than he has anticipated.

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