Saturday, October 1, 2011

50/50 [2011]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (L) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

50/50 (directed by Jonathan Levine written by Will Reiser) is based on Will Reiser's true experience of surviving cancer.  Reiser was a producer of the rather irreverent Da Ali G Show and yes there is a (necessary) wit that remains present throughout this film.  I say necessary wit because the story on the face of it is so awful that without a sense of humor it could become truly difficult to bear.

The movie begins with Adam (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a mid-20 something writer for Seattle Public Radio giving his artist girl-friend Rachel (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) her own drawer in his dresser where she could start keeping her stuff.  When he tells her this, she smiles happily, "We're getting so domestic..."

But alas things are going to get far more complicated than either ever could have imagined very quickly: Adam, who's fit, jogs, eats right, etc, has nevertheless felt a nagging back-pain for a while and decides to go to a doctor to check it out.  After conducing an MRI, thinking that the doctor, Dr. Ross (played by Andrew Airlie) is just going to give him some medication and perhaps suggest some exercises, Adam initially doesn't even hear him when Dr. Ross tells him in a dispassionate, clinical tone that Adam has massive malignant tumor growing along and amid his spine and that he would need immediate chemotherapy to at least try to reduce the tumor to a manageable size prior to attempting to remove it through surgery.

When Adam checks the type of cancer on Web MD, he finds that if caught prior to metastasis, the prognosis for recovery is "50/50" (hence the title of the film).  After metastasis, the odds fall to below 10 percent.  Wow.  How'd, Adam contract this cancer anyway?   Dr. Ross tells him that his cancer is "interesting" clinically because it seems to be caused by an extremely rare genetic mutation.

So here's Adam, mid-20s with a brand new live-in girlfriend with his whole life ahead of him finding-out that he has a cancer that, even if he does everything right, could kill him with the same odds as a coin toss.  What to do?  Well he's got to tell his friends and loved ones.

It's not easy.  Put yourselves in Rachel's place.  Whatever one may or may not say about her and Adam's decision at the beginning of this story to start living together, imagine making the decision of entering into a serious relationship and almost immediately afterwards finding that one's partner has come down with a serious life-threatening and certainly life-altering condition.

Adam's best friend Kyle (played by Seth Rogan) is also knocked off of his feet.  He and Adam are in their 20s.  They're not supposed to have a care in the world.  This is their time to be alive, their time to set the direction for their lives.  And suddenly here is his best friend telling him that may die, and knowing that even if he does, it won't even be quick.  Rather, it will be a rather long agony in which one will watch him waste away ... slowly.

Then there's poor authentically saintly-martyr mom (played by Angelica Houston).  She's already taking care of dad (played by Serge Houde), who's already run through all the "easy" stages of Alzheimer's disease.  As a truly good mom, she'd cut herself up to take care of everyone.  But how?  She can't.  It's impossible.

And there it is.  What a movie.  How do they all do?   And how do "clinical" Doc Ross and "fresh out of grad school" counselor Katherine (played by Anna Kedwick) score?  Well, it's kinda a "crap shoot" again, as the title of the movie goes ... "50/50."  Some step-up, some do not, most initially don't really know how.  It's a learning process for everyone.  Anyone who's ever had to deal with tragedy among friends or serious illness in the family would certainly appreciate this.

This is the second movie in several weeks to come out which is about cancer and tragedy, the other being Restless.  In neither movie is there a single mention of God.  Yet, honestly this movie seems so much better and more honest than the other one (which with its needless invocation of "Darwin" of all things almost feels anti-God, where such "theological parlor games" become all but beside the point in the face of such tragedy).

In 50/50 we're watching a young person who would have had everything going for him, who suddenly, and seemingly utterly randomly (due to an "extremely rare genetic defect") finds himself wounded/struck down before us.  In the face of such horror/tragedy, it's best to do what Job's three friends did for the first seven days (prior to opening their mouths to speak...) after meeting their stricken friend.  For those first seven days they kept their MOUTHS SHUT, tore their shirts and just _sat with him_ in his pain (Job 2:12-13).

50/50 is appropriately rated R (not for minors and not for the squeamish) but not for any "graphic" reason, rather simply because of the theme.

And yes, I do hope that Reiser and his movie get nominated for best original screen play.

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