Is there anything better than going to the theater and being wildly surprised by what you just saw?
Well, yes. Of course there is. What kind of sad life are you living where a really good movie is actually the best thing in your life? Seriously, get a puppy. They poop all over, but have you ever heard a 3-pound dog try to growl? They sound like Barbie's motorboat. Um, not that kind. The kind that floats on water. Forget it.
Still, if a surprise classic isn't the same as making out with a barista or scoring the worldwide track record on Bowser's Castle, it's still good enough to make you feel like a better person for the whole drive home until you find what that stupid puppy's done to your carpet and revert to being just as beaty as ever. Still, you want a really, really good drive home? Go see 50/50.
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When Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes to the doctor about his back pain, he learns he has a malignant tumor around his spine. He's 27 years old, and he has a 50 percent chance to survive.
No one around him gets it or knows how to help -- not his skittish girlfriend Bryce Dallas Howard, not his best friend Seth Rogen, not his mom Anjelica Huston, not even the hospital's therapist-in-training Anna Kendrick. All Gordon-Levitt can do is wait out his chemo and see what happens.
50/50 is billed as a comedy/drama, and you must admit it sounds like the biggest laugh riot since Sophie's Choice. Think of all the comedy that can be mined from Gordon-Levitt giving the same answer to "What's your sign?" and "What are you dying horribly of?" It will be the new "Who's on First?", but with more intestinal bleeding.
Thing is, 50/50 is funny. Produced by a bunch of the Apatow regulars, it's got some of their improv style along with a sharp script from Will Reiser, who based the movie on his own real-life experience as a young guy with life-threatening cancer. Spoiler alert: he writes pretty well for a ghost. Maybe he's been haunting Aaron Sorkin or sitting in on the Shakespear-Cervantes-Oscar Wilde poker game. Or maybe it's that he had cancer himself and thus knows a thing or two about it. Smart money's on the ghost stuff.
That experience positions Reiser to give 50/50 way more depth than your average tale of "boo hoo my body's creating something that's going to kill me from the inside." While the film's got plenty of jokes and funny moments, it's far more of a drama, following Gordon-Levitt through weeks of confusion, sickness, quiet anger, isolation and fear. It is a really, really good performance. I don't want to jinx it, but Gordon-Levitt should be nominated for something that rhymes with Bloscar.
You know how in most movies of individual struggle over adversity, the main character scuffles and scuffles, doing the same things and feeling the same feelings until a butterfly lands on his nose a few minutes before the end and he realizes he's been in love with his supermodel best friend all along?
50/50 doesn't work that way. Gordon-Levitt struggles with two or three emotions in every single scene, grappling with the contradictions in a way that's believable, natural and hugely sympathetic, particularly as he first adapts to his new canceriffic lifestyle, then shatters once it's time to face the music. At this point, Gordon-Levitt could be cast as an oven and I would totally believe that if you filled him with dough you would have piping-hot chocolate chip cookies 20 minutes later.
Rogen, meanwhile, is Reiser's real-life best friend, so at least he has a good excuse for playing himself once again. Here, he selfishly exploits Gordon-Levitt's cancer to score with chicks, yet winds up pretty sympathetic himself. Even Howard, who comes off so awful I hear the ghost of Gandhi has called for her to be drowned at birth, has glimmers of humanity.
The best-case scenario for 50/50 should have been a funny, winning, but ultimately disposable dramedy. Instead, its honesty is hilarious, bracing, scary and tremendously moving. I loved it. And I'm seeing it again.