Wednesday, October 12, 2011
MOVIE REVIEW: 50/50 (2011)
There's a reason the "young person dealing with cancer" genre is not as prevalent as, say, the "vampire" or "sports movie" genre. It has something to do with why a ridiculous fucking shitty-ass film about boxing robots has out-performed a film such as 50/50 twofold in half the theatre time. People are retarded, yes, but they also don't like getting bummed out watching young people (possibly) die of cancer.
But on an artistic level, maybe this genre (if you can even grant it genre status) is scarce for another reason. It's cheap. The main objective of a fictional story about a young person dealing with cancer, even if it's disguised as a romcom, is to tug at one's heartstrings. So long as the acting is acceptable and the production quality is high and the profane comic relief is profanely comedic, the movie will achieve that objective. However that's not to say criticism of this aspect is invalid, nor is it meant to diminish the struggle of actual young people who have to go through it, you know, for real. In fact, one could argue that their stories (even fictional versions) aren't told enough. It's just that you probably shouldn't praise 50/50 for being emotionally resonant. How could it not have been? (Sociopaths aside.)
My main gripe has less to do with that debate than it does with the heavy-handed way in which its framed. The characters are presented as personality types so they come off underdeveloped and shallow. In the very first scene we see a jogging Joseph Gordon-Levitt stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change. There are no cars coming and a female jogger whips by him and crosses the street. Yet he still waits for the little white walker man to signal before he moves. Guess he's not a risk-taker! Oh, also, he does not drive a car or even have a driver's license? Forget the obvious logistical difficulties this would pose with, you know, stuff like working and living (9/11 NEVER FORGET)--the most obnoxious thing about this plot point is his reasoning: cars aren't safe. He of course spends the entire movie bumming rides from family and friends and taking the bus, because apparently automobiles are only unsafe when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is operating them. Yikes. Does Seattle not have any kind of rail system? Oh, whoops.
While the movie's setup is definitely lacking, it does get substantially better as it moves along. Seth Rogen is Seth Rogen. Which is to say, he's funny but his schtick is getting a little tired. He was employed just enough here without having his act wear thin. The highlight for me though was the thoroughly adorable, girl-next-door Anna Kendrick. (Bryce Dallas Howard--The Village ginger all growns up and hot now--is also nice eye candy for similarly-minded broz out there. Though, why her character was an abstract artist who dressed and acted like an upperclass snob is still a mystery to me.)
It should be noted that I have a bias in favor of semi-homely, nervous girls on film. But given how much I loathed Up in the Air and specifically Kendrick's character, I did not have high hopes. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. The patient-therapist relationship between her and Gordon-Levitt, with all it's built-in taboos etc., actually helps salvage this film. When I told my wife that I felt really attracted to her, she thought I was talking about the redhead Howard. "Really?" she asked. "Her? The girl with the big teeth?"
And I was like, "Shaaa, way harsh."