REVIEW ROUND-UP: Jonathan Levine’s ’50/50′ in Toronto

When you think of a Seth Rogen comedy, you probably don’t think of Awards and Film Festival caliber material. However, the new film 50/50, which has been cautiously described as a cancer comedy has enough heart that it has been winning support all season. The film is based on the true story of Rogen’s real-life friend Will Reiser’s battle with cancer and along with Rogen it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anna Kedrick, and Bryce Dallas Howard. The film opens at the end of September, but has already been playing in sneak previews across the country and it recently was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

It is hard to root against a film that tells an autobiographical story of a battle with cancer, especially since the film takes a comic approach to the material. The critics from Toronto seem to believe that the film goes deeper than its surface level premise suggests.

Justin Chang of Variety thinks that the title 50/50 not only describes the chance of survival, but also the ratio of comedy and drama. He believes the drama works a lot better than the comedy:

While Reiser’s screenplay has its roots in personal experience, these setup passages ring false in ways that suggest a movie torn between its crowd-pleasing imperatives and its obligation to say something insightful about Adam’s experience as well as Reiser’s. There’s something admirable about the pic’s willingness to suggest that our nearest and dearest do sometimes abandon us in our hour of greatest need, and the searing confrontation scene that seals Rachael’s betrayal is impressively bold and nervy. Yet this subplot as a whole, from its convenient demonization of the unfaithful g.f. to its post-breakup celebratory montage, leaves an altogether sour aftertaste. Similarly problematic is the pat, idealized development of Adam and Katherine’s relationship as they begin to blur the doctor-patient boundaries.

Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere calls the film incredibly honest and goes to great lengths to ensure people realize it is not a comedy. He means that as a compliment:

The irony is that 50/50 is a straight-dealing, occasionally amusing drama about real human beings dealing with a real-deal issue — the kind of movie that I live for. Cheers to Levine and Reiser for making something very unusual and in fact exceptional. The writing is true and honest and clear. And Levine’s hand is straight and to the point and unfettered and not in the least pretentious. He serves the material well, as any good director should.

Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter takes time to compliment the performances. He thought Rogen was better than usual and Anna Kendrick was similar to her Up in the Air role, but the real stand out was Joseph Gordon-Levitt:

Reiser has written his characters with an indelible sweetness and vulnerability, which allows the cast to deliver performances with some depth. So a situation such as Kyle insisting that Adam and he should cruise girls at a bar looking for sympathy lays — Cruisin’ with the Big C as it were — comes off as quite funny as does Adam’s first chemo session where he ingests weed-laced sweets created by a fellow patient’s wife and floats out of the hospital afterwards.

Gordon-Levitt is such a fine actor that, with what amounts to a completely reactive character, he still scores big with easy-to-identify-with emotions that pitch him increasingly into a panic mode as the illness won’t loosen its grip.

Ryland Aldrich of Twitch writes that the film really came together because it had all the right pieces from the actors to the writing to the underrated director:

Though every film is a collaboration, a successful partnership seems to be especially responsible for the success here. Reiser wrote the particularly sharp script and honed it with producing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. According to Reiser, Gordon-Levitt came on board a week before shooting and “added a texture to Adam that I cannot take credit for writing.” Levine’s brilliant sense of character driven drama adds the crowning piece of the equation. His crafting of each supporting character’s subplot gives the film its brisk yet fully developed feel. This is particularly the case with Anjelica Huston’s mother character whose every moment on screen is a justified treasure.

Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist appreciates the film, but gives it only a C+ and says that the Oscar speculation that has been buzzing does not seem apt:

There’s been a lot of Oscar talk from early audience screenings and things of that nature, and while that’s flattering and all, this writer can’t see this film penetrating the Academy doors at all. That’s not to say there aren’t good performances in the picture. If anyone here would be earning any accolades it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but his likable and well-proportioned turn in this picture isn’t the type that earns nominations. “50/50” is a picture you want to root for—it’s mellow, it’s adult and it’s generally approached with a directorial calm and collected head, but it’s also a bit bottled up and fails to truly connect emotionally.

50/50 will be in theatres in the U.S. on September 30, 2011.

Oscar Speculation

Despite the strong critical acclaim for this film that has been buzzing for weeks now, I can’t bring myself to peg it as an Oscar contender. There is something about the marketing of the film that indicates Award magnet is not the type of project that studio is campaigning for with 50/50. That is not to say that I’m not very excited to see the film, however, as my hopes are very high.

Other Fall 2011 Review Round-Ups:

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  • Asif Khan

    good :) i will see it just for Joseph Gordon- Levitt

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