50/50: a brief dvd review

A 27 year-old has cancer.  Let’s just get that out of the way.

In 50/50, the star of the dark indie Hesher looks like someone else, or maybe like that kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun.  Perhaps the fresh-scrubbed, preppy hair-cutted look for Joseph Gordon Levitt helps convey him as naïve.  And naivete is definitely part of his character.  This film has its little bit of coming-of-age thrown in.

Bryce Dallas Howard is fantastic as his selfish girlfriend.  She does, though, want to do the right thing and vows to stick by him when he tells her he’s sick, and even offers her a chance to leave.  But, sorry, Bryce Dallas, based on your shifty antics in the first scene and the fact that you’ve gotten fourth billing behind another actress…I’m going to wager you don’t do the best job playing loyal nursemaid.

But that’s about the only predictable element in the story, when you remove the major plot element of getting cancer (and how that will typically resolve itself in a comedy) from the realm of labeling “predictable” or “unpredictable.”  The supporting relationships are great, and neither telegraphed nor overdone.

I wish Angelica Huston could just keep acting for all of time.

Seth Rogen says “uh huh-huh” a lot, sort of like a bigger Butthead, always scamming to “get laid” and get his buddy laid and referring to penises a lot.  Then again, that’s his character, and it works.  The reason it works is the reason the whole movie works – everything is just enough to be there, to give you the components of a life – the best friend since high school, the not-so-sure girlfriend and the new love interest, the overprotective mother, and the no-eye contact, monotone doctors, but none of it is too loud to overcome the central silence of Levitt’s character, and the vacuum he’s in, alone with his cancer.

There’s a huge difference between a film being slow or being short on action or plot and when a film has proportionate space.  This film is not slow, or short on anything.  The structure of writer Will Reiser’s and director Jonathan Levine’s  50/50 allows it this breathing room in the center, where a nimble, capable Levitt slowly draws us in to care about him, to root for him, and, by the end, to have your heart break for him and those who love him.

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