Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I hate tear-jerker movies. Oh, occasionally I'll be in the mood for one, but I always hate myself afterward. Nearly every tear-jerker that has ever been made is a revolting piece of manipulation. You're not crying because you're feeling something; you're crying because the music cues and the sentimental dialogue are telling you you're *supposed* to be feeling something. You're one of Pavlov's dogs, essentially.

50/50, however, is a tear-jerker that I absolutely love. I make no apologies for the blubbering I did during this movie, because every bit of it was earned through clever writing, solid storytelling and characterization, and incredible acting.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a guy who takes excellent care of himself and never takes chances with his body. He doesn't smoke, he doesn't do drugs, he runs regularly, and he doesn't even cross the street without permission from the crosswalk light. He works hard at his job and is supportive of his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). He's been having some pain in his back and night sweats, so he goes to the doctor. Guess what? He's got a rare form of cancer, and it's in such a position near his spine that they'd rather not operate unless they have no choice.

What follows is how he and the people around him deal with this situation. His girlfriend vows to take care of him, but she's not terribly good at it. His mother is like any mother would be, but she's perhaps a little more smothering than average because she's also having to deal with her husband's Alzheimer's. As one character puts it later, she has a husband who can't talk to her and a son who won't talk to her. Adam's best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) is supporting but occasionally takes advantage of his friend's misfortune for his own gain (though not really in a deplorable way). Into the mix comes Katherine (Anna Kendrick), Adam's assigned therapist who is actually younger than he is and still a little awkward in her connection to her patients (of which Adam is only the third).

The movie is best categorized as a comedy, and there are a lot of laughs (many of them rather crude), but everything in this movie feels absolutely real. There's a great scene where Adam is going in for his first chemotherapy session and looks around him at all the other cancer patients, clearly thinking "Is this going to be me?". His scenes with two fellow patients he does his chemo with are a highlight as well, and when one of them dies, it's an absolute heartbreak. There's no cloying setup to prepare you for it either; it's just out-of-the-blue, the way death almost always is. The most crushing scene by far, though, is when Adam is about to go in for a procedure and starts to realize he may not live through it. I don't know that I've ever wanted to step into a movie screen and hug a character harder than I did here.

This is a seriously fantastic movie. Near perfect, actually. Some viewers might be put off by the language, I suppose, but there are few movies nowadays that are more genuine about topics that turn lesser movies into fake, weepy schmaltz.

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