19 November 2012

The C Word


Right before my Granddad died of cancer he gave me some very memorable advice. We were trying to decide what I should do for a living when he remembered that I enjoy drinking tea. This reminded him about a swarm of bees that somehow manage to make tea by simply flying honey up and down a hill. Before I had chance to question this, he then informed me that perhaps I should seriously consider doing that as a career. Now unless he was suggesting that I should start a job that had the pre-requisit of me being a bee, then I haven't got a fucking clue what he was talking about. I can't say for sure but I'm going to assume that he'd had a few too many pain killers that day. Having said that, he did at one point also say he was going to stop using his morphine so that he could instead sell it to some drug dealers. I guess there's a chance that, cancer aside, he may have just been a little bit mental. 

Stick to 'Nanu-nanu', Robin.
Released in 2011, 50/50 is a comedy that centres  around the story of a young cancer victim and despite its tragic subject, actually manages to be quite funny. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a twenty-seven year old who is enjoying a healthy lifestyle when he discovers a tumour attached to his spine. Before seeing this, I didn't even know that you could get cancer there so I'm glad I now have something else to worry about. Occasionally I'll check my balls for lumps but not very often and not without getting instantly distracted by just violently wanking. Considering that the last big comedy that dealt with illness was Patch Adams, I'm sure we're all a little apprehensive about returning to the subject. If I was ever in hospital and Robin Williams walked in dressed as a clown, I'd discharge myself immediately and plonk my head straight into an oven. If Patch Adams was attempting to find something that was less funny than dying of cancer then I suppose it can consider itself a success. Actually thinking about it, there was also Funny People, but considering that every-bodies forgotten about it and I haven't seen it, fuck it- let's just pretend it never happened.

Those aren't real bruises, lest we forget.
So regarding this story, the structure of 50/50 is interestingly very similar to that of your classic underdog movie. It's about somebody reluctantly being forced to battle against the odds with the film heading towards an inevitable and final confrontation. I obviously won't ruin the end but just because it's about an underdog, don't be under the impression that there'll definitely be a happy and feel-good conclusion. As shite as Rocky is, it's also your classic underdog film but even there Stallone's boxing, mumbler-frump was beaten by Apollo Creed. With formulaically placed emotional peaks and troughs, the narrative of  both the Rocky films and 50/50 are pretty much identical to each other. Having said that, Rocky did then go on to beat Clubber Lang's tacky bulk of bling in Rocky 3 so I guess there's always hope. Basically the point that I'm trying to make is that whether Adam lives or dies is completely dependant on whether his cancer is the tumour equivalent of either Carl Weathers or Mr T.   



 
... Simplicity incarnate.
Not that I'm saying an uncomplicated narrative is a problem by the way. Paris Hilton has made millions of dollars which, with her questionable intelligence, proves that being hugely simple sometimes has its advantages. By following a relatively straightforward tangent, the film instead focuses on Adam as a character as well as the friends and loved ones that orbit his life. It goes without saying that the performances are all great with Joseph Gordon-Levitt here continuously proving his talent and likeability. Sure he started off his career as a child actor, but since Mysterious Skin had him arse fucked and beaten by a big gay trucker, he's done everything he can to earn credibility. When not shining in knock-out indie films like Brick and Hesher, he also manages to do action movies like Looper during which he delivered the best Bruce Willis performance since Unbreakable.

After Adam receives the news of his illness, he's told that his body will go into survival mode. In actual fact, coincidentally, my body does that every time I go camping at a music festival. For me however, this means that I don't need as much food or sleep and thankfully feel no urge to shit. For Adam on the other hand, it apparently means going through shock, and a haunting sense of calm and numbness. So it's kind of like how I feel everytime I spaff. This also of course allows JGL to show off his emotional range as he convincingly proves how little fun having cancer must be. Adam spends the duration of the movie repressing his feelings and bottling them up in an attempt to stay strong. If I was him, I think I'd probably just have a full-blown breakdown by spending the film marching naked through the streets and chunnering loudly about God.

To help Adam remain positive however, there is his best friend, mother, therapist and girlfriend. His best friend is played by Seth Rogan, with their bromantic relationship being one of the film’s key highlights. Rogan himself here brilliantly shows off his range by doing the usual trick of making jokes and getting stoned. Luckily, that happens to be a trick that I find quite enjoyable, relatable and aspirational. It should also be noted though that for a change, Rogan actually has a little more depth than usual which isn't surprising considering that he's kind of reliving his real life past. 50/50 was written by Will Reiser who is not only a friend of Rogan's but actually suffered from cancer a few years ago. That's not to say this film is autobiographical however, with it instead just taking inspiration from the writers experiences. Kind of like what Nil By Mouth is to Gary Oldman and the Jew hating Borat is to Mel Gibson. Also it obviously goes without saying that Reiser thankfully survived as nobody has made a film whilst dead since Steven Seagal's fat bloated corpse last appeared on screen.

If there's been any criticism of 50/50, it's in its depiction of the female characters. From reading reviews it seems that some critics have found the writing of Adams Mum and Girlfriend slightly misogynistic. I'm not sure why, but I'd guess this is probably mostly due to how ball achingly irritating they can occasionally be. Luckily though for me at least that just wasn't the case, although I can see why people might have that view. His mother does at times appear to be a bit of a bitch and her attempts to care for Adam are at times a little too smothering. However she's clearly acting out of love and a sense of helplessness having found out that her son could be about to pop his clogs. Also, in reality, since when are parental figures not massively annoying anyway? A few years ago my Mum got drunk, starting arguing and genuinely warned me that the Queen could be planning my assassination. Having said all that, it does probably help that I'm a massive fan of Wes Anderson and so will love any film in which Anjelica Huston appears as the Mum. And that's even if she does decide to turn up whilst dressed like a randomly tranny-fied Rod Stewart.

As for Adam's girlfriend, I genuinely can't see how people don't sympathise with her. She's a woman who unwillingly stays in a relationship because she'd feel too guilty to leave it. Sure she makes mistakes but it's not like she's having a good time. As unfairly disliked girlfriends go, it's worth noting that Bryce Dallas Howard does a good job in a role that film critic Mark Kermode considered to be “thankless”. To be honest, I'm just always a little creeped out whenever I see Bryce Dallas Howard. It's nothing against her, I just don't like finding myself attracted to something that originated life in Ron Howard's balls.

Considering that there's only one character left, it would seem unfair not to mention Anna Kendrick's performance. She plays Adams warm but inexperienced therapist who kindly tries to help, despite his obvious cynicism. To be honest I'm not sure why he's so resistant towards her because I'd fucking love a trip to the psychiatrist. Getting my issues sorted professionally would certainly seem more productive than writing this shit on a weekly basis. Plus Anna Kendrick's timid vulnerability is just so endearing that I don't know who wouldn't want to spend time with her. Having said that, her teeth are so ridiculously white that they must be radioactive. As much as I'd enjoy her company, every time she smiles, my retinas start to scream as though I'm staring at the sun through a telescope. Having seen her in a few things I would say this is possibly her best performance although she was also pretty good in Up in the Air. In that I particularly enjoyed the scene in which George Clooney slagged of marriage so much that he made her cry. Batnipples aside, he can be a proper hero at times.

Hero.
I actually first saw 50/50 at the cinema where somehow, it just felt a little out of place. It's not that it's in anyway like a TV movie, but for some reason it just suits being watched on DVD whilst surrounded by home comforts. Thinking about it though, listening to some plebs nonchalantly grazing on popcorn whilst witnessing a man’s slow deterioration could also be one of the reasons. I know I've kind of banged on about the characters here but I think that's really where the joy of this film is. As great as everything else might be, the guaranteed replay value will be just so that you can spend time with those people again. It's one of those movies in which you wish you were part of the gang and everyone’s mate, kind of like Stand By Me, Superbad and Get Carter. That last example is probably just for me.

In the end, I don't know how the fuck people cope with the stress of cancer and I don't look forward to finding out. With all that in mind, I strongly suggest people instead donate the price of this movie to cancer research and just take my word that it's a good film. Considering how many people die of it, I've always been under the assumption that it's what will kill me too and I'd like you all to save me. They say that every little helps so if everybody who reads this blog gives just ten pence then who knows, by the end of the week we might be almost up to a quid. 

Follow this blog or I'll fucking cut you.