August 28, 2015
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Our “50/50″ review and cast interviews – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell Jonathan Levine’s “50/50” has been a conversation starter since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and as I mentioned from this year’s event, the winning dramedy shows why you shouldn’t judge a film by its proverbial cover.

Levine’s project was diagnosed as “the cancer comedy” while in development, leading too many of us — myself included — to fear how a film co-starring Seth Rogen would mine laughs from chemotherapy and medicinal marijuana. And while “50/50” had Joseph Gordon-Levitt as its lead (always good), the subject matter and its assumed treatment suggested substantial amounts of melodrama.

As it turns out, those fears were misguided.

Levine’s film manages to be about so much more than just the disease that threatens Goron-Levitt’s protagonist, thanks to its intelligent script (by Will Reiser, whose personal experiences inform the film) and contributions from a powerful cast. “50/50” takes what I believe is one of the most realistic approaches to cancer and cancer treatment you’ll see on screen, but remembers to treat its potentially delicate subject matter with a blunt sense of humor. The film defies expectations, managing to be both sentimental and crudely lighthearted without ever overdosing on either. It has an excellent chance of connecting with a younger audience while also speaking to older crowds who’ve been through some of the struggles expertly portrayed on screen.

“50/50” follows Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old editor at NPR in Seattle with a bossy girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), a slacker best friend (Seth Rogen), and cancer. He didn’t know about that last one, and the film centers around how he deals with this life-altering discovery, with the assistance of some new friends (Anna Kendrick, Philip Baker Hall).

In a perfect world, Levine’s “50/50” would play itself into the broader awards picture. Talk from pre-screenings around the country has been overwhelmingly positive as the film prepares its Toronto bow. I honestly believe Gordon-Levitt has an excellent shot at a Best Actor nomination. His heartwrenching scene with Huston in a hospital (you’ll know it when you see it) should put both talents in the discussion.

But I also thoroughly enjoyed Rogen and Kendrick’s supporting turns, and Reiser’s script deserves consideration. If we were betting, I’d say the film’s chances of hanging around during the lengthy awards race are better than 50/50, and the odds that you’ll be moved by this emotionally fortifying film are practically 2/1.

Grade: *** out of four stars

In addition to our review, we’re lucky to have insight from the “50/50” cast, shot on location in Toronto. Be sure to check them out:

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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