TIFF 2011: 50/50 Strikes the Perfect Balance

Festivals Editor; Los Angeles, California (@RylandAldrich)
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TIFF 2011: 50/50 Strikes the Perfect Balance

Though 50/50 is Jonathan Levine's third directorial outing, sadly only one of his first two films has yet to see the light of day. All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Levine's directorial debut, has languished on Weinstein Co. shelves over creative differences since its big money purchase in 2006. Those of us lucky enough to have seen the film know what a true shame it is that so few people have experienced the clever and taut teen slasher.

The battle over Mandy Lane was still fresh on insiders' minds when Levine debuted his second feature The Wackness at Sundance in 2008. Written by Levine, this hip-hop infused story of teenage love in 1990s Manhattan announced Levine as one of the most distinct voices of his generation. Although the film took home both the audience prize for best dramatic feature and a handsome deal from Sony, its release was woefully underpromoted and audiences failed to find it at a crowded summer box office (meaning it should be at the top of your queue if you missed it as well).

With 50/50, Levine finally has a movie that a studio seems to really believe in (Summit has already blanketed Los Angeles in billboards ahead of its September 30th bow). It would seem they have good reason. 50/50 is an expertly crafted drama with just the right amount of comedic touch. With stellar performances across the board and a script that gets every beat right, it isn't too large a stretch for this team to start dreaming about Oscar night.

Inspired by screenwriter Will Reiser's own battle with cancer, 50/50 is the story of 27 year old Adam's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) acceptance of his own mortality after doctor's find an enormous tumor growing near his spine. Adam's best friend (Seth Rogen), girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), mother (Anjelica Huston) and a hospital psychologist (Anna Kendrick) all endeavor to help Adam see the bright side, though most are caught too much in their own coming to terms to really fully assist.

Though every film is a collaboration, a successful partnership seems to be especially responsible for the success here. Reiser wrote the particularly sharp script and honed it with producing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. According to Reiser, Gordon-Levitt came on board a week before shooting and "added a texture to Adam that I cannot take credit for writing." Levine's brilliant sense of character driven drama adds the crowning piece of the equation. His crafting of each supporting character's subplot gives the film its brisk yet fully developed feel. This is particularly the case with Anjelica Huston's mother character whose every moment on screen is a justified treasure.

Of course the 50/50 of the film's title refers to Adam's chances of survival, but it could just as easily be in reference to the perfectly natural balance the film strike between its dramatic and comedic halves. This is a mature and touching piece of work that has you welling up one moment and cracking up the next. However the true success is that the filmmakers were able to do it without making the audience feel manipulated. There is an honesty to each of the characters that really shines through. Levine, Reiser, Rogen and Goldberg have already announced they are working on another project together. With 50/50 they have something to be very proud of and I know I'll be at the front of the line for whatever this team does next.

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