Op-Ed: TIFF 2011- Sharp wit, relationship insight make 50/50 a must-see Special

Posted Sep 12, 2011 by David Silverberg
A funny movie about getting cancer? It's a formula for success in 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, a touching compelling film debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (left) and Seth Rogen star in the film 50/50  debuting at the Toronto Internati...
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (left) and Seth Rogen star in the film 50/50, debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival
Courtest TIFF
When I left the theatre after watching 50/50, I knew I had watched a rare feat: a film about contracting a life-threatening disease filled with humour, insight into the human condition, smart acting and little flab. Thanks to writer Will Reiser's true account of getting cancer, the film crackles with realism and the kind of dialogue only a true experience can bring out.
Reiser's friend who helped him through those early stages of pain was none other than Seth Rogen, who also happens to play the good buddy of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old radio producer who discovers he has a rare form of spinal cancer. His doctor tells him he has a 50-50 chance of surviving, a fact Rogen applauds, for hilarious reasons.
Rogen gets to play himself - a bumbling pot-smoking confidante who cares more for his friend than appearances show. As he often does, Rogen's love of breaking tense scenes with quick wit brings an enjoyable contrast to the melancholic moments Adam faces.
As if alienation and shock weren't enough for poor Adam, he also endures a less-than-loving girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a boss who won't give him the time of day - until he gets cancer, of course, and then everyone is all sympathetic smiles and hugs. You can sense the honesty in those scenes, as if Reiser was saying, "This is what I had to deal with, people. It's not just chemo and shaved heads."
Gordon-Levitt jumps away from secondary roles into a leading man turn in 50/50, and he shines with spot-on acting. You saw some of his emotion bubble to the surface in Inception but here he turns it up several notches, and when he flips out in a fantastic scene with Rogen, it's obvious Gordon-Levitt has many more starring roles ahead of him. He's compelling to watch.
Some of the leading ladies deserve mention, such as Anjelica Huston as Adam's mother. She displays the kind of emotional responses every mom would offer her child when cancer strikes the family, but she does it her way, with just a glance revealing more than her words.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anna Kendrick star in the film 50/50
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anna Kendrick star in the film 50/50
Courtesy TIFF
Playing Adam's therapist is the soft-voiced Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), and her friendly approach to helping Adam entices him enough to think unholy thoughts. She also has a flair for under-stated comedy and does a fine job at breaking apart some of the heavy moments in therapy.
Director Jonathan Levine keeps the pace going so swiftly the film passes without any lull. If anything, the relationship between Adam and his father could have been explored more fully. But the insight into how to communicate with loved ones when facing a crisis is expertly explored, so much so you'll want to re-watch 50/50 to see what other insight you can glean from those 100 minutes.
50/50 will be released worldwide on Sept. 30
See other reviews of TIFF films here and here.