By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 15, 2011 at 4:19AM
One of the big winners out of Toronto is Jonathan Levine's 50/50 (September 30), which succeeds by hewing close to its true story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives an awards-worthy performance in Will Reiser's semi-autobiographical script about his battle with cancer (see video below), and less successfully, Seth Rogen, basically playing himself, tries to keep his best chum laughing as he undergoes chemo and an operation, losing his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) as well as his hair. Anjelica Huston is the mother he does not want to share his illness with, and Anna Kendrick his neophyte shrink. Applause all around.
The trailer and a sampling of early reviews are below.
The movie played well enough in Toronto to add site curator/actor/producer/emcee/tweeter (@hitRECordjoe) Gordon-Levitt, 30, to the best actor contender list. The Chris Nolan regular is popular, and he endeared himself to the Toronto hordes with one of his hitRECord appearances, where he showed this video.
Of course it's a long road to a nomination in January, but Summit could land an awards boost for this four-hankie tearjerker. Critics will send folks in to laugh and cry, much as they will The Descendants. The cancer weepie is a solid Oscar season staple, from Love Story to Terms of Endearment.
"Will Reiser's semiautobiographical script initially prescribes too artificial a story treatment for its characters but is rescued by a genial, low-key vibe that builds in sensitivity and emotion up through the final reels."
"The question 50/50 raises is just how far into sitcom territory can you venture with such material without trivializing the terrifying cancer experience? Reiser has it all over any other filmmaker who can only guess at what that experience is like..But this comedy professional has processed his experience through a purely formulaic screenplay,..Gordon-Levitt is such a fine actor that, with what amounts to a completely reactive character, he still scores big with easy-to-identify-with emotions."
"50/50 is a deeper film than that broad description might suggest, smoothly functioning as a crowdpleaser that deals honestly with sensitive subject matter, but digging out most of its humor and insight from how the cancer challenges the masculinity of both Adam and his pal Kyle...50/50 doesn’t overstay its welcome and in fact, nearly all of its characters are rich enough to deserve films of their own. But since we have to settle for only one, it’s good 50/50 is the kind that stays with you, perhaps a generation from now being namechecked for comfort just as "Terms of Endearment" is in this film."
"A soft and sweet cancer drama that hits with the force of an ill-timed hug,..[screenwriter Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine] smoothly realizes this memoir as a modest production that's disarmingly relatable in part because of its generic look. Appealing performances compensate for the network TV aesthetic with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen leading an impressive cast of famous faces that—presumably bolstered by strong reviews—could help this charming yet disposable dramedy to score with adult auds who aren't afraid to laugh in the face of death."
"I like that the film feels so rough-hewn, sort of intentionally ragged on a technical level, like it's raw. Here. We shot it. Boom. It doesn't feel oversweetened, and it strips away a lot of the artifice that can be a problem in a typical Hollywood treatment of something like this,..It would be easy to bury the movie in fake emotion with a score that does it all for you, but it really doesn't pour it on. That makes it more affecting, more tender."
"It’s a testament to the filmmakers’ abilities that they manage to make so many of the conventions of the romantic comedy work in such a setting. Although sometimes they don’t,..Neither [Kendrick or Rogen] stretches much, but for a comedy about cancer, you can’t expect it to take any further risks. That leaves it to Gordon-Levitt to take on the emotional weight of the film. And while he’s always convincing, the surrounding story elements make for a less than resonant experience,..it should probably produce more tears."