Out of all the films I caught at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, 50/50 left the biggest impact on me and has stayed inside my head ever since I saw it. It’s a brilliant combination of drama and comedy, with perfect casting, writing, and direction. It’s not just one of the best films of the year, it is the best film of the year.
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27-year-old radio producer who is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. When his cold-hearted girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) physically and emotionally checks out on him, his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) thinks he should use his illness to pick-up women, while his mother (Anjelica Huston) wants to move in and take care of him.
In a daze as to why this has happened to him, Adam brushes it all off as nothing serious and carries on with life. Then he begins his treatment and the realization that he could die kicks in. He turns to a young therapist at the hospital for support (Anna Kendrick), as well as two patients he meets during his chemo sessions (played by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer).
As I noted, the film is a mix of comedy and drama. And when it’s funny, it is extremely funny. Gordon-Levitt and Rogen play off each other so well that there were moments that made me almost pee my pants. That said, Gordon-Levitt is such a fine actor that he can almost instantly get the tears flowing from the audience with just a look of pain. Throw Huston in as the melodramatic mother and some heartfelt moments with Hall and Frewer, and you’ll be going through a box of tissue before the credits roll.
Based on writer Will Reiser’s real-life battle with cancer during his 20s, his script never feels forced or contrived, and it never comes across as making light of how serious cancer is. Director Jonathan Levine also helps keeps this message straight and shows he has matured greatly as a filmmaker since his lacklustre 2008 indie dramedy The Wackness. Hopefully they’ll both be rewarded well come Oscar season.
If a movie can make you laugh, cry, and open your eyes as to how precious and fleeting life is, then that’s worth paying to see. 50/50 is that movie.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Top image: A scene from 50/50. Courtesy eOne Films.