With a topic that can be manipulated quite often in cinema, “50/50” proves to be a refreshing alternative.
A surprisingly low-key drama with humorous moments, this is an honest and heartfelt piece of work - a straightforward but genuinely honest look at dealing with adversity.
“50/50” tells the story of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old working in public radio in Seattle who seems to have a long and prosperous future in front of him.
That comes into question when he is diagnosed with cancer, with his chances of survival in question.
With the help of his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), his mother (Anjelica Huston) and a therapist named Katherine (Anna Kendrick), Adam begins his quest to beat the disease - learning important life lessons along the way.
I’ll admit this is a plot that sounds like the perfect fit for the disease movie of the week on Lifetime, but the screenplay from Will Reiser (whose own fight with cancer inspired the story) never overplays its hand, with effective results.
The film reminded me a lot of the 1991 William Hurt film “The Doctor,” with a story that is able to find humor in some rough situations without overplaying it.
Gordon-Levitt’s performance fits the film’s approach perfectly - a low-key mix of uncertainty and despair. And, for the most part, the supporting cast is just as impressive.
Rogen is also good here, even if he’s just playing a slight variation of the stoner character he seems to play in every film.
Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer are good in small roles as fellow cancer patients, while Kendrick is very likable in a role that fortunately doesn’t quite go in the direction I feared it might.
The same can’t be said for Bryce Dallas Howard’s role as Rachael, Adam’s girlfriend. It’s the weakest, and most predictable, role in a movie full of strong moments and performances.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is the laugh-out-loud “Horrible Bosses” (B) - a comedy with a simple premise and a cast willing to do anything for a laugh.
This raunchy version of “9 to 5” stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day as three lifelong friends who are stuck in jobs with bosses who are beyond evil. Bateman’s Nick is employed by a ruthless executive (Kevin Spacey) who is intent on holding Nick back for his own financial gain. Kurt (Sudeikis) actually likes his job at a chemical company, but that changes when he finds himself taking orders from the company owner’s coked-out son (Colin Farrell).
Then there is Dale (Day), a dental assistant being sexually harassed by his employer (Jennifer Aniston) on a daily basis. When he confronts her about the harassment, she turns it into a chance to blackmail Dale.
One night the three pals decide they have had enough and set out to murder their bosses, with the plan of making the deaths look like accidents.
With the help of a mysterious murder consultant (played by Jamie Foxx in what amounts to an extended cameo), the three friends set out to make their lives better, only to discover that things can actually get worse.
Directed by Seth Gordon - the man behind the great documentary “The King of Kong” - “Bosses” makes great work of its ensemble, with the entire cast shining at one point or another.
Spacey is really good, even if he is channeling his performance from the little-seen “Swimming with Sharks.” Farrell has lots of fun with his role, while Aniston goes all-in as the foul-mouthed blackmailer. With their star power, Farrell and Aniston could have easily asked to play it safe. But to their credit, they don’t compromise here, and the result is two of the best performances of their respective careers.
All three are aided by Gordon’s keen eye for making antagonists slimier and a little more evil than most. It’s one of the reasons that “Kong” worked so well, and it’s a strength of “Bosses,” the perfect adversaries to the film’s bumbling heroes.
Sudeikis has some really funny moments, proving that his work in February’s “Hall Pass” wasn’t a fluke. Bateman is also really good, the straight man to all the insanity going on around him.
But it is Day who will likely benefit most from “Bosses.” His bumbling Dale provides the comedy with some of the biggest laughs, including an extended sequence where he accidentally ingests cocaine. This should do for Day what “The Hangover” did for Zach Galifianakis.
It all adds up to a film that is anything but politically correct, and is all the more funnier for it.
“Horrible Bosses” is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material, and will be available Tuesday on DVD.
— To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.