I woke up yesterday morning feeling a little more present, with my kids, with my husband, with myself. The reason? A remarkable new film called 50/50 that I had the pleasure of viewing on Wednesday night at the San Diego Film Festival. This semi-biographical dramady about a twenty-seven year old broadcast journalist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is diagnosed with a rare, unpronounceable form of cancer, captured my heart in the first five minutes and still hasn’t let it go.
50/50 was born out of comedy writer, Will Reiser’s personal run in with cancer six years ago. Reiser, most known for his work on Da Ali G Show, has not only created a hilarious, powerful work of art with this film, but he has also put the proverbial elephant in the room, cancer, on a spot-lit pedestal, forcing the world to pay attention.
Unlike many Hollywood films, 50/50 has no big wow-factor stunts or computer generated mystical creatures. It is about the basics: a great director, talented actors and a brilliant script. Its charm and its achievement is in its humanity. The characters on the screen are not characters; they are as real as any friend or family member you have ever known who has been diagnosed with cancer.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the lead character, Adam, which was “loosely based,” on Reiser’s own life and kismet certainly had a factor in how he landed the role. Originally, James McAvoy was slated to play Adam, but he had to drop out of the film only a few days before filming. JGL was contacted by Seth Rogen, at literally the last minute, and he graciously accepted. The rest is history, which I predict will include a shiny gold Academy Award come next March. Once you see the film you will agree that he was made for this role and that he will be walking the red carpet a lot come award season (you will also want to pinch his cheeks and give him a hug).
The distinctive comedy and guttural laugh of Seth Rogen had the audience cracking up in mere minutes, and kept us going right through to the credits. His character of Kyle, Adam’s best friend, is “that guy” who uses profane, obnoxious humor in every situation, even when it’s not appropriate, and uses his best friend’s spinal tumor to get laid. The friendship between Rogen and JGL is believable and endearing.
One of the key factors to the film’s genius is the perfectly timed tango between comedy and emotion. One minute I was grabbing my stomach from literal side-splitting laughter, and the next I was holding in the ugly cry, primarily instigated by Angelica Huston.
Huston, in her role as Adam’s over-bearing, loving mom, embodied motherhood to a tee. Her infrequent yet emotionally charged scenes felt like a master class in acting and a master insight into parenting. Her subtle nuances, from a calculated glance to a perfectly timed inhale, had every mother in the audience reaching for her Kleenex. She delivered my favorite line of the film to her son’s therapist, played by Anna Kendrick: “I smother him because I love him.”
The superb supporting cast includes Bryce Dallas Howard, the ridiculously stunning daughter of Ron Howard, Matt Frewer and Phillip Baker Hall. I learned in my interview with Reiser, which will be posted on The Mama Mary Show later today, that the scene between JGL, Rogen Hall and Frewer is 100% improvised. Knowing this tidbit will make the scene even funnier than it already is.
For me, the film hit close to home on many levels. Almost exactly one year ago, I received the call, from my best friend, the “I have cancer” call. Prior to that I had witnessed my dad and a sister both succumb to cancer, so cancer is not a foreign word to me. However, I have realized over the past ten years that it causes some people to panic, run and/or totally clam up. It’s a taboo subject that shouldn’t be, which is why I am so grateful to Reiser and Rogen for making this film, and using humor to give it life. Pun intended.
This film is about cancer, yes, but it is also about humanity, friendship, relationships, courage, fear, and unconditional love. You will laugh and you will cry, guaranteed. If you don’t, check yourself for something called a heart.
I give this film 4 ¾ fist pumps (because nothing is perfect, except Bridesmaids).
50/50 opens in theaters nationwide today, Friday, September 30th. Check out the video interview on my site.