50/50. I have a huge man-crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt (I defy anyone that’s seen 500 Days of Summer to not). And when I heard he was teaming up with Seth Rogan, I smiled. It’s an interesting combination and one that ultimately pays off. Add in the cute and witty Anna Kendrick and the girl you love to hate Bryce Dallas Howard… it’s a winning formula.
The basic premise is that Adam, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a 27-year-old radio journalist who is suddenly diagnosed with spinal cancer and is given a 50% chance of survival. He travels this journey with best friend Seth Rogan and girlfriend Bryce Dallas Howard. He forms a relationship with his 24-year-old therapist Anna Kendrick, their relationship being complicated, unique, and utterly believable.
I’m a sucker for movies like this, that know exactly which strings to pull. Seth Rogan brings the in-your-face raunchy humor that you can’t believe just happened. I swear he improvised a majority of his lines but it will have you spitting your soda out. In contrast comes Gordon-Levitt’s subtle and sensitive approach. The duality between these two mirrors the duality of facing a tragedy like cancer. Rogan’s character romanticizes cancer and uses it as a pity tool, and one to play on the heart-strings of women. But through Gordon-Levitt’s eyes, we see the gritty reality of coping with cancer: the hospital visits, losing those you love, facing isolation, and even coping with your own impending death. This movie knows exactly when to dwell in this reality and when to draw us back out through Rogen’s hysterical and usually inappropriate antics. It’s believable though, as tragedy often causes us to cope using humor.
Bryce Dallas Howard stars as the girlfriend, who is superficial and utterly wrong for our main character. As the movie progresses, you learn to loathe her. But she plays the part well. Anyone that saw The Help could attest to her portrayal of the girl you love to hate.
Rounding out the cast is Anna Kendrick, who was first recognized for her minor role in the Twilight series but her breakout performance was with George Clooney in Up in the Air. She is not a stereotypical leading lady but I’m glad for that. She is incredibly sweet and witty and absolutely perfect for this role. She plays a 24-year-old therapist who is in school for her doctorate. It’s a very different relationship than we’ve ever seen. We’re used to therapists who are men with bushy beards and sweater vests but this movie smartly takes the opportunity to give us a therapist that doesn’t always have the right answers and still struggles to cope with the fact that her patients may not live to see tomorrow. Her relationship with our leading man is adorable and completely unique in mainstream films.
Besides the main storyline of Adam coping with “back cancer,” there are some superb underlying stories with his family (his mother that just wants to love him and his father who’s stricken with Alzheimer’s). Anjelica Huston appears as his mother and she is absolutely fantastic, even creating some of the emotional cornerstones of the film towards the climax.
So is this movie a comedy? It sounds sad. It’s a comedy in the manner that it will make you laugh. You’ll laugh out of nervousness, you’ll laugh out of spite, and you’ll laugh out of surprise. I’m not saying the movie’s a tragedy, it’s not that either. This movie is a journey. You go from Point A to Point B and some things happen that have you dying in the seats, but other things happen which have you unable to see through teary eyes. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and I’m glad they chose Joseph Gordon-Levitt to lead the way. The cast in general was perfectly chosen and completely balanced.
So should I see it?
Yes. It’s rare that a movie comes along that can truly attract such a wide range of audiences. It’s sweet, it’s subtle, it’s hilarious, it’s tragic, it’s beautiful… You may not leave the theater with a new favorite movie, but at least you’ll be nodding and saying, “Yeah, I did like it.” It gives you a thousand things to think about, which alone is well worth the price of admission.